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.
“ot a ste?”
I moved my feet, “not a step.”
I always wondered, if the top step on a ladder isn’t a step, why do they put a step there?
Major limbs are now off the tree. It looks kind of lopsided, but there’s enough space between branches and the feeders. Now the squirrels are peering over the edge of the house roof, sizing up an attack from that side. Cutting off pieces of soffit is probably out of the question. I’ll have to buy some new feeders.
Squirrels getting into feeders has spawned an arms race to build better squirrel-proof feeders. There’s even books out about it, like one called “Outwitting Squirrels.”
It usually takes a squirrel about an afternoon to figure a way past a squirrel-proof feeder. And soon they all know. The information must be passed around on some kind of squirrel network.
My favorite squirrel-proof bird feeder on the market might be the Squirrel-Off, a $160 solar-powered feeder that provides a shock to squirrels.
The Humane Society doesn’t like bird feeders that shock squirrels.
But it would sure add a lot of fun to bird watching.
Tim Krohn is a Free Press staff writer. He can be contacted at 344-6383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.