Going Wild

Wild bird feeding is a popular hobby amongst pet owners, and retailers can entice this group into the store by offering good food and quality equipment.


Two-thirds of people who own pet birds also feed wild birds, and I am no exception. Considering this percentage, every pet store should offer a selection of wild bird food and products. High-end wild bird food with no fillers, especially those with black oil sunflower seeds, will bring in the most species. Safflower is a good second choice, and one that most mammals and large black birds usually do not like. Suet should be offered year round, and thistle is great for attracting finches. Since these foods will attract other unwanted creatures to the yard, retailers should also offer suggestions on how to “battle” squirrels, chipmunks and even blackbirds.

Grappling Grackles
Outside the window in front of my desk, I have a stand with three different feeders–one with black oil sunflower seeds, another with thistle, and the last with suet. When I write my columns, I often look outside to see what bird species are around. This month, to my chagrin, I saw a lot of grackles.

Like most people that feed wild birds, I’ve had my fair share of “fights” with creatures I don’t wish to feed, such as squirrels, chipmunks and, now, grackles. Being in a condo, I am limited in what I can and cannot use to stop unwanted feeder guests. I use feeders that claim to be “squirrel proof,” but some work and some do not. Since all three of my wild bird feeders are up on a single pole about six feet tall, I tried to keep the squirrels and chipmunks away by using a conical baffle, but the pole is not tall enough, so I cannot place the baffle up where it needs to be. I did, however, put the baffle toward the bottom of the pole, about 18 inches from the ground, which helped to keep the chipmunks off.

I offer suet all year round, as I love seeing the woodpeckers that come everyday. The suet feeder has a cage around it to keep squirrels from eating it, but the squirrels quickly realized they could lift the cake up at the top. To combat this behavior, I put a wire over the suet, but they can still get a paw on it and scrape some suet out. I also tried using the suet cakes with hot pepper that squirrels don’t like, but I found that birds in my area didn’t care for it much either. I realized that I needed to get a suet feeder with a larger cage, so the squirrels can’t reach the suet at all. Then the grackles discovered the suet feeder.

These large, and may I say annoying, black birds were eating the suet and scaring off the other birds with their size and numbers. I felt perplexed about how to keep these long-neck flyers away. After some research, I discovered that grackles won’t hang upside down, but woodpeckers will. To test this, I put a plastic pie cover on the top of my feeder and wrapped plastic wrap around the sides almost down to the bottom. So far, it appears to have worked against the grackles, and the woodpeckers are already eating from the bottom.

Selling Feeders

If, in addition to food, a store sells feeders, offer high-quality ones that are made with lots of metal, especially at the top and around perches, to keep squirrels from chewing it. Also choose feeders that seem to be the most “squirrel proof,” meaning that there are cages or mechanisms that close off food access when too much weight is put on the perch. Talk with local bird groups and manufacturers, and check the Internet for information about feeding wild birds without attracting pesky critters. This is a great hobby, and new things can be learned and seen everyday. Just ten minutes ago, I saw a robin chase a chipmunk. I wonder if I can get that robin to chase away squirrels and grackles, too.

Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 25 years of pet retailing experience.

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