The Birdfeeder Experiment: Week 5
Somehow 5 weeks have flown by (ah, bird humour) since I first started on my balcony Birdfeeder Experiment. The experience has been incredible so far and each day only brings new visitors. The secret seems to be – from the perspective of this very novice birder – all in the seed.
My initial set-up involved attaching a pole to my balcony from which I hung a small tube feeder filled with sunflower hearts, a suet cage, and a dish of mealworms. The result was that I became the number one hang-out for the House Sparrows in my neighbourhood (read more about that particular dilemma here).
To vary my customer base, I began experimenting with the type of feed I was providing: I soaked the mealworms to make them juicier and put out fresh oranges. About mid-way through Week 4 I made a visit to Wild Birds Unlimited in Etobicoke and explained my predicament. We explored a number of different options and in the end I decided to put out some peanuts in the shell and to try out a new feeder: the so-called “dinner bell.”
The dinner bell feeder is possibly the ugliest feeder I have ever seen – it looks a bit like I’ve hung Tupperware. But it has proven to be both incredibly popular with a variety of species and practical. The design includes a dome to protect the seed from the elements and a tray underneath to catch the fallen seed. In the centre is a cylinder of mixed seed that attracts both perching and clinging birds + keeps the mess down to a minimum.
I was incredibly skeptical about the design but I decided that one cannot judge a bird feeder on its appearance. Since installing the new dinner bell, I have seen 11 different species on the feeder itself and another 2 in the trees in my backyard – the majority of which I have never seen in my yard before!
From my humble beginnings serving an exclusive clientele of House Sparrows, I am now regularly spotting the following species at my feeders:
- Downy Woodpecker (I have been adopted by a family of 3 who visit daily)
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- White-breasted Nuthatch (they came as a pair for the first time this week)
- Northern Cardinal
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Blue Jay (although he comes from the peanuts)
- American Robin
- Song Sparrow
- American Tree Sparrow
- House Sparrow
- European Starlings (more than I can count – they’re a horrible nuisance)
I have also seen a Mourning Dove hanging out in the trees as well as what seemed to be a Cooper’s Hawk (which caused me quite literally to fall of the couch when I looked up and saw him…. gave the other birds a bird of a shock too…)
How to Birds find Feeders?
The question that has grabbed my attention of late is: How are all these birds finding my feeder? I’m still new to my neighbourhood but I have spent the better part of the past 6 months sitting out on my balcony and at least half of the birds that are regularly frequenting my feeders have never appeared in my yard before.
I initially assumed that it must have something to do with the smell of the seed – that they could pick up the scent from a certain distance off. Turns out that there is a debate over whether or not birds really smell or taste at all (read more here) and that the consensus seems to be that they find new feeders largely by sight.
Birds have impressive visual range, seeing more colour variation than our human eyes permit – but I am amazed that this is also their main resource for locating new sources of food (i.e., my new feeders). A few resources also point out that sound (such as running water in a bird bath) may also play a role but this isn’t a feature on my balcony (yet).
I’ll provide another update in the new year but for the moment, I think I am going to move towards some consistency. My current feed variety (mixed seed in a cylinder, suet, mealworms, and whole peanuts) is successfully attracting a wide range of species so I think I’ve found a nice balance for the local birds in my neighbourhood. I do need to figure out a way to handle the mob of European Starlings that arrives most mornings (I have never witnessed a more disruptive group of birds ever – I take back everything I ever said about the House Sparrows).
One Last Note as we Head into the Holidays
I learned while visiting Wild Birds Unlimited of a Scandinavian tradition that some of you may want to try out this season: spreading some birdseed on your doorstep on Christmas morning is thought to bring good luck for the coming year. Certainly worth a try – at the very least, our feathered neighbours will appreciate it!
Happy Holidays and all the best for 2018.