Getting the right bird

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 5, 1999

feeder is no easy task

Last week I discussed creating a habitat for birds in your back yard. If you’ve decided to invite birds into your garden by tailoring your landscape to their needs, you may be thinking about what kind of feeder to use for them.

Bird feeders come in all shapes and sizes, and they are available everywhere from drug stores to discount stores to department stores and catalogs.

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Some feeders are basic and efficient, while others are for show. Regardless of how they look, there are four basic feeder styles: finch, lantern, Cornell and tray.

There are numerous interpretations of the tube feeder, which is also referred to as a finch feeder.

Tubular in shape, the feeder has multiple perches to accommodate birds with small beaks, such as titmice, chickadees and finches. However, many songbirds with larger beaks, like cardinals, will dine happily at a tube or finch feeder.

Even woodpeckers will perch, though rather awkwardly, on a finch feeder. Squirrels also dine readily at a tube feeder unless defensive measures are taken.

You can buy a commercially made squirrel guard or make one yourself by fashioning a metal collar around the feeder hangar. Also, adding hot red pepper flakes to the bird feed deters squirrels but does not harm birds.

The lantern feeder is another popular design, and one that I use in my own garden. It has a pleasing shape which an be interpreted in various ways. Mine is cedar, and its color looks more natural in my landscape than bulky plastic or metal feeders.

Large birds can access a lantern feeder with relative ease. Of course, that means squirrels, raccoons and other critters can readily mount a lantern feeder, too, if the aforementioned deterrents are not in place.

A feeder design developed at Cornell University is supposedly squirrel-proof. When a heavy bird or animal lands on the ledge or rail, its weight closes the opening to the food supply. The counterbalance is adjustable to accommodate only the birds you want to allow at the feeder.

Those who have early versions of the Cornell style feeders may find that squirrels are clever enough to outwit the feeder. Without closing off the food supply, squirrels can hang from the roof and reach down to retrieve food from the seed tray.

Unless the counterbalance is set to close off the food supply to large birds like blue jays, they can take advantage of the older Cornell design. These birds will land on the perch and rake seeds onto the ground until they find one they like.

Newer versions of the Cornell design are more efficient than the older ones. The edges of the seed hopper are rounded the perch is recessed and the seed supply bin is baffled to prevent large scale disposal of seeds. These feeders have ample bins and hold a large food supply.

Feeders do not have to be complicated or expensive. Even somehing as simple tray or a box will serve well. When using this type of open feeder, drill holes in the bottom tray so the food will not stand in water when it rains. Even with a roof, the fly-through feeder is another version of an open or tray feeder. It offers some protection from rain but not from squirrels.

When choosing a feeder, you may have an aesthetic preference, but also consider the design for its for its capacity as well as ease of cleaning and refilling.

Just as you may have a feeder preference, birds also seem to have preferences. Establishing stations with different feeder designs at several locations in your yard or garden will expand feeding options to more species of birds. Birds will come to a feeder much more readily if there is plant cover nearby. Without the safety of a nearby tree or shrub, birds often take food from a feeder and carry it to a remote protected spot.

Whatever style feeder you choose, be sure to keep it clean and filled with bird seed. Then you can sit in front of your favorite window and spend endless hours bird watching.