(Photos by Don Reimer)
(Photos by Don Reimer)
I am one of an estimated 60 million Americans who feed birds. Why do we do so? While supplemental feeding may slightly increase winter survival rates of a few species, most birds would survive without our well-intentioned provisions. An extensive national backyard feeder network may have abetted the noticeable northward range expansion of species across the entire North American continent, however.

We can agree that feeding birds is really not rocket science, but, on some level, we all like to scheme and strategize on the perfect placement and location of our feeding station. It is the equivalent of a live science experiment where we receive direct feedback (excuse the pun) on our best efforts.

Numerous articles have outlined the basic bird feeding routines. Assorted seed are recommended: black oil sunflower and niger seed are staples; "scratch seed" such a fine-cracked corn or millet, thrown down for ground feeding birds. Suet is a welcoming diet for woodpeckers and others. Since suet may turn rancid in hot summer weather, I parcel it out sparingly to the baby woodpeckers arriving at feeders daily. Water is also a positive element in attracting birds. And adequate cover adds a sense of security as birds feed.

Entering my basement the other day, I was struck by the dilapidated line of retired or resting feeders hanging above my work bench. Two handcrafted models hung nearby. Given my persistent equipment purchases through past decades, our national economy should not be in recession!

My conglomerate feeder photo will help explain my situation. On the left side are several suet feeders that all worked quite well. The simple birch stick with drilled holes is the woodpecker's favorite.

What does the orange lobster bait bag contain? A clump of deer hair that I hang near the feeders each spring. Various birds pluck out bits of fur to line their nests; pieces of colorful yarn, wool or ribbon are also utilized.

Hummingbird feeders take many artistic forms. Nectar can be made by heating one part white sugar and four parts water for about 2 minutes. Then let it cool. You don't need to add red food coloring, and never use brown sugar or molasses. Change the nectar weekly or so, since fermented nectar can cause liver damage to hummers.

The little swing chair in the photo foreground was a family Christmas gift that the birds love! Holding a White-winged Crossbill, that feeder appeared in The Free Press last December and that article was subsequently published in Finch News, an Australian bird publication.

Summer fruit can draw in orioles or, in my case, Gray Catbirds that savor the fresh grape jelly and boldly scold me to refill the orange halves!

Until you have struggled valiantly (and lost battles) against gray squirrels, you are still a novice in this game. At center, you see a long cylindrical feeder with the base missing. Up until its demise, this was my most successful squirrel deterrent for several years. This feeder was a spinner unit that would whiz the frantic squirrels in circles and then fling them unmercilessly into the bushes. I took delight in watching these antics until one sad afternoon; a Super Squirrel arrived and somehow broke my secret weapon.

My latest failsafe acquisition is a "water wiggler," a device that creates an appealing concentric ripple effect in the birdbath that was guaranteed to attract hordes of birds. After three weeks, not a single bird has used it. Oh well, at least the night-roaming raccoons have not busted that one yet.