Monday, September 22, 2008

Squirrels And Bird Feeders

Well I had planned on tackling this topic head-on.

Fox squirrels can be hooligans when it comes to bird feeders. They eat bird seed and bird feeders. I can’t stand them.

I have one in my bathroom right now.

That’s right. A baby fox squirrel is sleeping on a heating pad in a big box in my bathroom. Fox squirrels are an introduced species in the Los Angeles area. Their territory is expanding; they are smart, adaptable and prolific. They are not a species I support protecting or feeding, at least not here. They will prey on bird eggs and they drive off native ground squirrels.

Usually, I try to let nature work. I cheer when the red-tailed hawk plucks a fox squirrel off the neighbor’s roof for dinner. When I first saw the baby squirrel on Saturday, I knew it was much younger than any I had seen on the ground before. But it seemed to be able and scavenging for food. I warned the dog off, and let the tike hunker down for the night in the sword fern.

Yesterday, Inali found it again, still in the fern. Again, it seemed to be all right. We tried to catch it, but it was able to avoid us. Nature is the best mother, so we set out some milk soaked bread, but let the little one go its way.

This morning it was across the street. Last night, it didn’t sleep in the fern protected from the evening chill. This morning, the construction crew at the neighbor’s was well meaning but frightening to a teeny squirrel.

Where do the neighbors bring the injured, the strange and the lost? Here.

band-tailed pigeon
Inali saving hummingbird

So now I have a baby squirrel tucked into warm rags. Now that I know it is going to survive, I’m off to get formula for it.

Yes, I am raising the enemy. But it is awfully cute.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Feeding Hummingbirds

When I first looked around to see which birds were naturally spending time in our yard, I was dazzled by hummingbirds.

Tiny, but tenacious, hummingbirds were the first avian neighbors with which I
established a relationship. I’ve used all kinds of hummingbird feeders.

  • glass bottles with plastic bases
  • decorative glass with a rubber stopper
  • flat saucer type
  • decorative glass bottles
  • glass mini vials

Which works the best?

The flat saucer-type feeders are best for meeting the SES –Simple, Easy, Sturdy – requirements. They are Simple – there are few parts. They are Easy – cleaning doesn’t require bottle brushes and many can go into the dishwasher. They are Sturdy – quality models are made of durable plastic that stands up to UV and heavy use. This one has been outside everyday for three years.

The model I like has a perch all the way around and a water well at the center that deters ants. Because the nectar is in the bottom of the saucer, these feeders seldom drip, even in a strong wind.

The simplest versions are red in color so they attract hummingbird attention. You DO NOT need to put red coloring into hummingbird nectar. The birds are attracted to the feeder, not the liquid inside. Red coloring can be unhealthy for hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are smart. Their brains have evolved to store information regarding hundreds of food locations. They know which flowers are open at which times of the day. They know when they last visited a flower and how long it will take that flower to regenerate more nectar. If you have reliable, fresh food to offer, migrating hummers will remember your location from year to year.

One of the primary issues with hummingbird nectar is keeping feeders clean and nectar fresh. Even if the feeder is not empty, it should be cleaned and refilled with new nectar every five days. Especially in warm climates, sugary nectar can ferment and mold in a few days. You wouldn’t want to pick up a can of soda that had been sitting open for a week and take a drink, neither does that beautiful hummingbird.

Some locations are fortunate to have so many hummingbirds that a large feeder can be drained of food in a day, but that isn’t the case for most of us. Smaller feeders allow you to keep your nectar fresh without feeling like you are wasting a lot.

Glass bottles with plastic bases
Some people swear by the classic glass bottle feeder with a red, plastic flower base. I had one for years. While they are great for attracting hummingbirds, they have lots of parts which can fail. They are difficult to keep clean. In a wind, they often drip attracting ants and, despite the “bee guards,” it is hard to keep bees from being attracted.

Decorative glass with a rubber stopper
Those pretty glass bottles with rubber stoppers can be difficult to clean and are hard to maintain a good seal. If nectar drips, it will attract insects.

Glass mini vials
I have used these single vial feeders successfully with reluctant juvenile hummers that needed to learn to use a feeder for food. The small quantity of food in the vial however allows it to heat up faster and therefore to go bad faster. Glass vials can also be too long for hummingbirds to reach the food, once it is half way gone. They are time consuming to clean and need to be refilled frequently.

Decorative glass feeders

Some hummingbird feeders are stunning works of art. I’m not saying you shouldn’t indulge yourself in one of these beauties, but I would discourage it until you have established your yard as a hummingbird site. Do I have one? Yes.

Do the hummingbirds come to it? Yes, but not as ma
ny as come to the SES feeder.

Is it harder to clean? Yes, and even though I am very careful I have broken parts of it and had to replace them. I readily admit that I bought this feeder for me. It is beautiful in the yard.

To be successful feeding hummers:

  • Make your first feeder: Simple - Easy - Sturdy
  • Start with a feeder that has color red on, at least, the area where the hummingbird is supposed to drink the nectar.
  • Position the feeder in an open, visable area
  • Keep nectar fresh - Change food every 5 days or less
  • Keep the feeder clean

Nectar Recipe:
(1 part sugar to 4 parts water)

1/4 cup white cane sugar
1 cup

NO coloring, keep it clear and pure. NO sugar substitutes.

YES, you can make a larger batch and keep it in the refrigerator. Store in glass containers, not plastic.

Now is the time to attract hummingbirds migrating south. Put out that Feeder.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Shopping for Bird Feeders

I've worked in a wildlife habitat store and offered food to backyard birds for over 10 years. How do I pick a bird feeder? I follow one simple rule - SES.

Simple - Easy - Sturdy

Once you start to look for a bird feeder keep this rule in mind. No matter what kind of food you are using or bird you are trying to attract, you will be more successful if you follow SES.

SIMPLE - The birds do not care how much you spend on a feeder. They do not care if the feeder is handmade and decorated with copper filigree. They do not care if the glass was hand blown in Spain. Remember what the birds are interested in, eating. Anti-squirrel action may entertain you, but if it makes it harder for the birds to eat, it isn’t a plus. Birds want simple access to food. Some decorative bird feeders are works of art, but save the art for after you are established and know your clientele. SIMPLE feeders have fewer moving parts and less to break.

EASY - Refilling the feeder with food and cleaning the feeder should be EASY. Everyone’s definition of easy is different, but be honest with yourself about what you are willing to do. If it is difficult or time consuming, you won’t do it. Like any food supplier, you must be consistent. If there is no food or the food is spoiled, you will be out of business. Look for a bird feeder that is easy to open, easy to fill and easy to take apart and clean.

One thing I like about quality tube feeders is they are easy to take apart and scrub. “Do I have to clean my bird feeder?” Afraid so. Just like any restaurant table, the more patrons, the more you will have to clean it. Soap and water is the easiest way to clean. If your feeder won’t stand up to soap and water, reconsider.

STURDY - A bird feeder should be sturdy. If parts are breaking off, you will avoid filling it. Sharp edges or broken bits may endanger feeding birds. Determine which materials are most STURDY for your location. Wood may last forever in a dry mild climate or waste away to a soggy mess in a rainy area. In the Southwest, ultraviolet rays can degrade plastic in a single summer. More expense feeders tend to use UV resistant plastics. Cheap metal can fall ill to rust, but steel bibs on plastic openings can provide protection and durability.

As you weigh one bird feeder against another, remember SES - Simple, Easy, Sturdy. If the blown glass feeder is calling you but doesn’t pass the SES test, think again.