The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 17, 2012

Krohn: Watching birds begins so innocently

The only redemption during the short days and overcast desolation of late fall is bringing birds in to feeders.

Ornithologists will tell you that birds don’t really need our help, but Americans spend $3.5 billion a year on bird seed anyway.

No wonder. As seasonal affective disorder sets in, having brilliant red cardinals, gold finches and swarming waves of juncos feeding spilled seed off the ground brings life to a lifeless landscape.

It’s like most hobbies. It starts off innocently enough. A little cheap feeder hanging outside the window, filled with cheap bird seed.

Then it grows: suet feeders made of logs; $125 cedar, multi-station, buffet feeders on poles; thistle feeders; peanut feeders; platform feeders; and baffles to deter squirrels.

With each new feeder comes new, specialized food — regular birdseed won’t do. You’ll want things such as Cardinal Delight, a mix of peanut parts, sunflowers and other delectables that looks better than Trail Mix and costs as much.

I know all this from experience, having started out slowly a few years ago to a point now where Bird Feeder Installation Day has become a full day.

My birdfeeding started at the same time I began cutting branches off the big maple tree in the front yard.

First it was just small branches that the squirrels would move down to launch themselves onto my feeders.

But “deterring squirrels” is an oxymoron — they just see the cutting of each branch as a new challenge in acrobatics. So I’d stand on the low steps of the stepladder, cutting off more, slightly larger, lower-hanging branches.

The squirrels would move to various locations on the remaining limbs, calculating range and angle to the feeders until they found a new launching spot.

Time to stand higher on the ladder, small electric chain saw in hand. Looking down between my feet to see if the ladder seemed stable, I could make out the words “ot a ste” on the top rung I was standing on.

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