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Illinois Country Living

David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois

Yard & Garden

Cheeping About Seeds
Keeping the birds happy and the squirrels under control

Little known fact: I love the movie Mary Poppins. Always have and probably always will. It was one of the first movies I could remember seeing back in the 60s; well, that and a James Bond film.

Years later, when sitting at a piano, I would pick out the tunes from the movie. Never could figure what to do with the left hand, but I was good with the right hand. The first song that I finished was Feed the Birds, one of those haunting memories that make you feel good, especially when coupled with the images of the film.

To this day, I try to live up to that song, though I never could find birdseed for tuppence a bag, let alone finding a tuppence. (Yes, I know it’s an English coin, but most retailers would rather have US coins.) Throughout the winter months, I try to feed the birds, not because they’ll starve if I don’t and they won’t, but because their colors are so beautiful against any snow or the gray-brown of winter.

On top of that, the birds really entertain the indoor cats who are frustrated by that quarter inch of clear hard building material that curtails their animal instincts, and they in turn entertain me.

There are several problems associated with feeding the birds.

First, there’s the cost. Well, like kids, you just decide to bear it. Birdseed isn’t free and quality bird food isn’t cheap. There is cheap seed, but you’ll probably get the less-than-desirable birds, or those that stay may cheep that you’re cheap.

Not all birds eat the same type of seeds. Some prefer thistle while others go for the sunflowers. It’s more of a trial-and-error, though there are all sorts of information at the library and on the Internet related to feeding birds, and what specific types of food the songbirds prefer.

Next, you have to contend with the unwelcomed visitors, whether two-legged or four-legged. The two-legged tend to be other birds; to date, I haven’t found bird food to be tasty, but given the choice of seeds or starving, I might change my mind. Sunflower seeds are a great snack, but it takes much more of them to fill me up than a cardinal. And no, I’m not talking about eating the cardinal.

Squirrels tend to think that any food outdoors is rightfully theirs and will figure out any method to get to it. With no soap operas to watch or bills to pay, they can spend hours trying to figure out how to break through your bird-feeding defenses and scarf down the seeds.

Of course, this can be amusing; especially watching squirrels scurrying over all sorts of poles, wires, tree limbs and gutters trying to get to the food. Some are content to nibble on what falls beneath the feeder, but others are game at winning at all cost.

You can try slender metal poles at least 6 to 7 feet high and bird feeders suspended by thin wires from a limb or branch, with an extensive metal overhang over the feeding station. Squirrel claws and metal don’t go hand in hand like bark or wood does. Without the overhang, they may slide down the wire and hang upside down in order to get the food.

But those furry tree rodents can jump 20 feet or more, flying through the air and trying to land on the littlest ledge in order to dislodge the seed. You’ll need to locate the bird feeder far enough way so they have a difficult time.

Squirrels are prone to miss the feeder every now and then, landing smack on the ground. Most are dazed and will get back up. Most are born with the “quitters never win” gene.

So, if you can’t beat them, why not join them? Throw a little extra seed out there, get some extra ears of corn and nail them to a board for the squirrels, which makes it harder for them than just scattering the seed on the ground? Then again, they don’t have much to do except forage for their buried acorns, so making them work for their food isn’t breaking any Geneva conventions.

What you really need to worry about are the rodents, such as rats and mice, which might nibble on the stored bag of birdseed. Instead of keeping the seed in the sack, you’re better to find a plastic tub to keep the seed until you need it. Just make sure the lid is on tight. Or keep the cat nearby.

More Information:

David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.


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