This is for the Birds: Practical Gardening Series

Artist Charlie Harper, Bird Feeders

Feeding the birds during the winter is an activity a lot of people delight in. Through the years, I’ve picked up several feeder tips on how to attend to the needs of birds and deter marauding squirrels. Here are just a few…

Larger bird feeders are a convenience—you don’t have to fill them as often as the smaller ones. One issue with their size is that the seeds don’t always flow out to the edges where the birds can reach. A trick I picked up years ago uses a clear disposable 5-ounce cup (or a 7-ounce cup cut in half around the circumference). Before filling the feeder, turn the cup upside-down and center it in the bottom. Add seed, initially holding the cup in place, until feeder is filled. The seed will slide away from the plastic cup and toward the edges of the feeder.

Thistle seed is a favorite of finches and is eaten more in late winter and early spring…so keep this tip in mind. Filling a finch feeder with thistle seeds can be messy, especially if you use a mesh sock feeder. Here is a way to make that task easier by repurposing a watering can that leaks: remove the rose head on the spout—it might twist off or you might need to cut it off—then add seed and pour it out the spout into the sock feeder.

Peanut butter coated pine cones covered in seeds is a favorite winter food of many birds. Creating these feeders has often been a messy and time consuming activity until I read this tip that makes the project less of a challenge. Select cones that will easily fit into the wide mouth of a plastic peanut butter jar. Tie a string around the top of the cone. Remove the label from the jar and with a permanent marker write “birds” near the top and on the lid. Place the jar in a pan of simmering water until peanut butter is melted. Using a microwave will often melt and warp the plastic jar. When the peanut butter is melted, swirl the cone into the peanut butter until coated, and then roll it in a bowl of bird seed. Set the cone on wax paper to harden. I usually precut the wax paper to fit around each cone and use it to wrap the cone for storage.

We’ve all experienced the challenges of squirrels at our bird feeders. If you use a pole feeder, buying a baffle for it can be costly. Repurpose a metal Slinky instead. Secure one end of the Slinky to the bottom of an empty bird feeder around the flange that attaches to the pole. When you reattach the feeder the Slinky will slide down the pole. The moving wire of the Slinky confuses squirrels and keeps them from climbing up to the feeder.

Birds flock to a winter garden that has water available. Where I live, USDA Zone 5, using an electric birdbath deicer with a thermostat is the only real solution to keeping water thawed.  When using a deicer, be sure to keep the basin full. Use a dark basin to help absorb sunlight…and it is easier for the birds to see. Concrete birdbath basins should not be used because they slowly absorb water and, as that water freezes, will crack and break apart—molded plastics and fiberglass work best. Keep the bird bath close to the house so you can easily refill it during the winter.

Its fun to watch the birds, and gratifying to know that we can help nourish the least of God’s creatures.

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  • Leslie Lynch

    These are some AWESOME tips, Margaret! Love the Slinky idea! We still have an outdoor cat; once he’s gone, I’ll start feeding birds again.


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