I’ve had an ongoing issue with squirrels ravaging my bird feeders. I bought a great Squirrel Stopper pole, but because I wanted to see the birds from my kitchen window, and despite clear instructions not too, I placed it too close to a nearby tree and arborvitaes. So, those very acrobatic squirrels have had fun feasting at my feeders!
In a post earlier this winter, I wrote about finally investing in some well reviewed squirrel proof feeders to try and attract more birds than squirrels to my yard (Happy New Year’s To My Backyard Birds!). So did they work?
Every year, my husband asks me what I want for my birthday. I’m usually not very helpful, but this year I knew just what I wanted!
Last fall, I decided a little late I was going to get back in the bird feeding business. It had been a while, as evidenced by one of my old feeders currently working only as home to a wasp’s nest. Soon after I got the poles and feeders sort of set out, the ground froze and my temporary locations became permanent.
Needless to say, the birds, and the squirrels, were happy with my feeders and locations. I am glad that I kept at it. With the winter as harsh as it was, the birds needed all the help they could get. Plus it added some fun to the never-ending winter.
This year, my plan was to be a lot more prepared. I needed to plan a little better where I was going to put the feeders, and get some better squirrel proof feeders. I’m not nearly as handy around power tools as my mom is, so I wasn’t going to build anything myself. Shopping around, the better pole systems were a bit pricey, which is where my birthday comes in. For my birthday I got a fabulous pole system and a couple of new feeders.
It seemed really sturdy and almost universally squirrel-proof according to the reviewers. Next decision was where to put it. I wanted it to be where I could see the visitors easily from the house, but not attractive to jumping squirrels. While this feeder seems quite effective in stopping climbing squirrels, it won’t protect from the jumpers. While my mom was here visiting, we scoped out a spot that hopefully is far enough away from the river birch and arborvitae, and a perfect view from the kitchen window. It’s going to be right behind the big hosta, about 10 ft from the tree trunk and 6 ft from the arborvitae. I’m hoping they can’t get a good jump off the floppy arborvitae branches.
Setting up the feeder—
I was really impressed with the thickness and sturdiness of the poles.
Time to start putting it in the ground. You use one of the upper cross beams as the leverage to twist in the auger. It was a little tough to insert the pole throughout the hole, but using water as the lubricant, I got it in finally. Then it took two of us to twist it into the wonderful midwest ground. Somehow we picked the only spot free of tree roots and got it in the first time!
You do need to get it in the ground all the way to the line, otherwise it’s too tall and it’s tough to reach the feeder hooks. Hint: Do it right the first time. No way was I going to disassemble it to finish twisting it into the ground. We ended up using one of my metal shepherd’s crooks to finish twisting. Nothing else was strong enough to take the pressure.
The rest of the pieces slipped together easily.
I got a couple of new feeders to go with the pole set. The red one is a No-No Cardinal Feeder. I never had a real cardinal feeder out last winter, and instead went out every day and tossed some sunflower seeds on the snowman statue’s head until it fell over and cracked from the cold. Kind of a wasteful way to put it out, but it worked in a pinch and the squirrels and juncos didn’t complain. I also got a new suet feeder, mostly because it looked nice.
On my way tomorrow to pick up new seed for the season. Are you ready for the birds this winter?
Many of us are used to having unwelcome visitors to our feeders and gardens. Squirrels, rabbits, even deer are common visitors to our yards. Whole businesses are out there dedicated to creating garden pest deterrents and squirrel-proof bird feeders. But, nothing is a match for what came to visit Peggy’s feeders.
Here’s a before…
Then, one morning a couple of weeks ago, this is what she woke up to…
Never in the more than 10 years in her house had she ever seen anything like this. The only thing that can do this kind of damage is a black bear. And a very large, strong bear it must have been given the size and sturdiness of the feeder stand. The cross beam had been ripped right off the bolts holding it on.
Feeders were ripped apart.
This homemade suet feeder was impressively ripped open, bending the old steel hinge and ripping off the wire cage. This was actually the bear’s favorite. He carried it off into the field behind her house where Nikki, Peggy’s dog, was able to track it down.
Peggy put out a animal-cam to try and get a photo of the bear if it decided to come back. Mostly she just got shots of herself working in the yard and mowing the grass. It took her while, and with the help of some friends she was able to get everything fixed and back together.
I’d like to show a “ta da look how great it looks’ photo, but wouldn’t you know, the bear chose THAT NIGHT to come back again. Not just to her feeder, but to a few others on the block as well. Unfortunately, all she got on the animal-cam was a big black blur.
This time, the bear wasn’t able to rip down the arm, but did do some pretty bad damage to her more expensive feeders. Again, with the help of friends, she was able to repair them and now takes them in every night. It’s a nuisance, but having a bear visit your yard is a bigger nuisance. Once it gets cold and the bears head into hibernation, she can start leaving them out again. Nikki will be happy too. She hasn’t been too thrilled about going out at night.
While I was out there putting the new homemade suet in the feeder, I heard, and then finally found a Flicker in the neighbor’s yard. I haven’t seen him at my suet feeder yet, but I hope he comes to visit. In the meantime, the last couple of days I’ve seen Chickadees, a Downy Woodpecker, a Red Breasted Nuthatch and a squirrel on the suet feeder. They seem to like this new suet!
Something, well, probably that darn squirrel, knocked the feeder onto the ground. The Downy seemed to have liked the homemade suet so much it also went down to the ground to eat it. I’ve never seen a woodpecker eat off the ground. He must have been really hungry!
Since I am hoping that spring is coming soon, I decided to put the other suet cake I made out for the birds. I don’t have another feeder, so used an empty onion bag. We’ll see how that works.
I was at my favorite local butcher shop (Prime-N-Tender Meats) the other day, and asked if they had any suet I could have to make homemade suet cakes for the birds. They went in the freezer and came out with this bag containing a big bag of fatty glop.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting. This was a bit of a last minute idea that I came up with while I was there. I thought seemed like an quick, easy project. Oops. I really should have thought this through a little better. But in the end, I did get some really nice looking suet cakes for the birds. Would I do it again? Yes 🙂
Making Homemade Suet Cakes
Ask your local butcher for suet. You may need to ask around, as not all will carry it, and some may charge a nominal fee for it. Cut it up into small, even chunks. Put everything in, even the stuff that doesn’t look at all like anything would eat it. The fat then needs to be rendered. After trying a couple of different ways, (see below), I found that the best way was to use a crock pot over low heat. I felt confident that I could safely leave it to cook all day without worries of starting a grease fire. To get the rendering started, I added a 1/4 cup of water.
Then cover and let it cook all day until the the remaining fat is crunchy and there’s a good amount of liquid fat in the bottom.
Strain out the crunchy remains and place the liquified fat (and little crumbs) in a bowl.
Now it’s time to pull together the ingredients to make the suet cakes. There’s lots of things to use that the birds will love. This time I chose:
To the 1 c of liquified fat I ended up with, I added about 1/2 c cornmeal, 1/2 c peanut butter, 1 cup mixed seed and 1/2 c sunflower seeds. It should be fairly thick.
I then used 2 glass storage containers to make the cakes in. I don’t have a lot of plastic containers around anymore, but you can use whatever you have in the cupboard–plastic storage containers, plastic tubs, paper cups, whatever you might have around that is the right size.
Place in the refrigerator to harden.
Remove from container and use immediately or store in freezer bags in the freezer. I got them to release from the glass bowls by putting them in warm water for about 30 sec. They may also needs a little coaxing with a knife.
Yum! Now I have 2 very tasty smelling suet cakes ready to be put out for the birds. Whatever you don’t use you can freeze for later use.
**Everything I’ve read says it’s not a good idea to have suet out in the warmer weather. It can melt, go rancid, start to smell bad or can simply damage birds wings or your patio. All good reasons to store the leftover suet in the freezer until next fall.
**When I first started to try and melt the suet, I tried the big chunks in a saucepan, and then cut up in the saucepan. Both terrible ideas from a fire safety standpoint. If you do want to use a saucepan, a double boiler would be a much better idea.
**My mom, Peggy, simplifies things even further by just putting the fat from the butcher in a net or cage and let the birds go at it. They love that, too.
By the title, you’d think I was talking about those pesky squirrels again. But not this time. This time it’s an even more obnoxious bully, the Blue Jay.
Despite how handsome they look, looks can be deceiving. They are the original “Angry Birds”. My mom Peggy has a terrible time protecting her feeders, as well as the smaller birds visiting her yard, from the very unfriendly Blue Jays. The Blue Jays aggressively scare away the other birds, sometimes even killing them, then gluttonously eat up all the seed they can. It’s very frustrating to say the least.
Would you mess with this guy????
They don’t just eat what they need, but hoard it in their beak and expandable throat and esophagus. It’s said they can hold five to six Pin Oak acorns in their esophagus and beak, so you can imagine how many sunflower seeds it could hold! Once they’ve gorged themselves, they take their cache away and store it for later. Usually, they bury it in the ground like a squirrel or a dog might. Then they return for more.
Blue jays are also highly intelligent. They are remarkable in their ability to mimic other birds like raptors, presumably to further scare off any competition. They are also uncanny in their ability to figure out bird feeders. Peggy has even seen them hanging upside down from her suet feeder pretending to be a Downy Woodpecker.
So what to do? There are ways to hinder their ability to get to the feeders. The suet feeder above is often suggested as one way, but in her yard they’ve figured it out. Another option for protecting the suet from being devoured is to use a metal cage. The small woodpeckers can slip right in, but leave the Blue Jays looking longingly at it.
They’ve also figured out how to get out peanuts from this tube feeder that is usually visited by White and Red Nuthatches, Titmice and Chickadees. Into another cage it goes. The Blue Jays can get a few peanuts now and then, but it’s a lot of work
You can also sometimes adjust the type of seeds you put out. Blue Jays are much fonder of sunflower seeds than safflower seeds, and really don’t like nyjer (thistle) seeds.
Feeders like this Heritage Farms feeder also work to keep the Blue Jays off. The feeder perch can be weight adjusted to keep out the heavier birds. The seed tray gets shut tight when a too-heavy bird lands on it. Peggy has it set to allow Cardinals and Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks to land and eat, but if a little bird lands on the perch with them, it’ll close. That’s a small sacrifice to make to keep the Blue Jays off.
Do you have any bullies in your yard? The other day in my yard, one of the Cardinals was chasing off sparrows trying to eat seed off the ground. Oddly though, he seemed fine with the Juncos also eating the seeds. I guess even he knows which birds are a nuisance.