Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Feeder

I love watching the birds. Where I live here in the South is right along the Mississippi Flyway, which is a major migratory route for all kinds of birds. So, depending on the season, I can have many, many bird visitors at my feeder. Its surprising to see how many different kinds there are, actually, and some kinds that normally wouldn't stop at a feeder do so anyway. I guess they see their bird cousins swooping in for a nibble and have to check it out for themselves.

This year I decided to get a new bird feeder. It was quite an expensive one, actually, and one I was hoping would help with a pest many bird lovers have to contend with - squirrels! Yep, those greedy little fur balls can gobble up half the seed in your feeder if they get the chance. So this time I bought what was labeled as a "squirrel-proof" feeder (see pic). The idea is that when something heavy like a squirrel gets on the feeder it causes a little door to slide down over the seed - thus cheating the pesky squirrel out of a meal. We'll come back to that.

So today I woke up to one of the rare but woundrous events people in the South either love or dread - snow! I'm a lover, not a dreader. I just LOVE snow! Its so beautiful and peaceful and, well, snowy! Down here its really pretty when it sticks to things, as all the tree branches get coated just like they had frosting on them. Its a different effect than snow on evergreens, which we have much fewer of. Oaks and Hickories rule here. But one thing about snow is that it makes it really hard for the birds to find food. Most of the time the ground is bare and they can scratch around for seeds and nuts all day long, but a heavy snow like we're getting today covers all that up. First thing this morning I made sure the feeder was well stocked, then I took some time to watch my little bird friends come to dinner. And come they did! It looked like lunch time at the McDonalds drive thru! Birds were lined up by the dozens on tree branches and bushes just waiting for a turn at the feeder.

Now here's what I oberved at the feeder today. Birds have different behaviors and interactions that kind of reminded me of people. Tiny ones, like Gold Finches, Titmice, and Chickadees are relatively well mannered. They zip in, get a seed, and then fly off to a tree branch somewhere to crack the seed and eat it - allowing other birds a turn for their share. They're neat eaters. Sparrows, on the other hand, are like pigs at a trough. They fly in and perch on the feeder and park themselves as they gobble up seed after seed. They attack anyone else who gets near them and hog the whole feeder til they're good and done. Cardinals - the biggest and showiest of the birds, are a park-and-munch kind of bird as well, although much more tolerant of other birds who want a share. Even so, the Cardinal usually gets the feeder to himself, perhaps with a few lightning dashes in-and-out by Chickadees and Titmice for a seed or two. Woodpeckers are completely different. Like Chickadees they take a single seed and then fly off to eat it, but for some strange reason they can't just take any ole seed from the feeder. It has to be just the RIGHT one, and they fling seeds everywhere digging through the tray trying to find that certain one with their name on it! The other birds love this, of course, but it infurates the tar out of me.

So let's get back to this fancy new feeder. Its all based on a mechanism using weight, with the perch as the front part and a steel bar in the back as a counter-weight. Put too much weight on the perch and the little door will swing down and block access to the seed. Sounds brilliant. Simple. Elegant. Fool proof. And it works great.....on birds. Yep, get a flock of hungry sparrows lined up and they'll eventually crowd in so tight that the door swings shut due to their weight. Then they just sit there like nitwits! Finally one will fly off and the door will open back up and the fight will start all over until they crowd in too thick again. And the squirrels? Well, they quickly found a way around the clever mechanism. They grab onto the post that holds the feeder with their back legs and arch over the perch so as not to put any weight on it. They then hold on to the feeder with one paw and use the other to scoop seeds out and munch to their hearts content! Or one squirrel climbs onto the counter-weight in the back while the other one gobbles up food from the front. Then they trade off. So much for squirrel-proof!

I've come to some conclusions about my observations of the feeder today. Birds are dumb. Squirrels are smart. Maybe I'm beginning to like squirrels.....


Anonymous said...
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JonJon said...

Wow, that's really interesting. I didn't realize squirrels are so clever.

Neal said...

Yes, very clever, and quick to figure it out. I was amazed.