Get a Bird Feeder, and Don’t Overthink It

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Get a Bird Feeder, and Don’t Overthink It
Photo: JT Weyerman, Shutterstock

Birds are pretty and interesting to watch — and if you’re lazy, you don’t even need to leave the house to see them. Imagine, as you are ordering takeout some night, you could order nature to just show up at your door. Well, you can. Hang up a bird feeder.

My bird feeders have been among my greatest pandemic pleasures, but before I tell you about them I want to be clear about one thing: I am not fussy about them. I did not research the best bird feeders. I do not prepare artisanal birdseed blends. I do not obsess over individual birds, either; I’m curious how many pairs of cardinals are in the neighbourhood but I’ve never attempted to tell one from another.

Here’s the good news, though: it doesn’t matter.

Any time I’ve asked people who are Very Good at birds to tell me what is the best birdseed, they always say “oh, I just buy big bags of black oil sunflower seeds.” Slightly sceptical, I looked up those charts of which birds like which seeds. And guess what? All of them like the sunflower seeds, which are cheap as dirt.

I’ve seen cardinals, black-capped chickadees, house finches, tufted titmice (titmouses?), house sparrows, song sparrows, chipping sparrows, goldfinches, mourning doves, blue jays, and at least two kinds of woodpecker show up at my feeder for sunflower seeds. Chipmunks and voles frolic in the scraps underneath. Every now and then a squirrel tries to climb the pole. When that happens, I go out and spray the pole with PAM, and for a day or two afterward I get the added entertainment of watching squirrels try to climb the pole and hilariously slide back down.

I do have one other feeder. Occasionally — once or twice a year — I would see a hummingbird fly up to the porch and then immediately fly away. I’ve never seen hummingbirds anywhere else, but one year I decided to hang up a feeder to see if the hummingbird would return. When I did, it took a solid week or two for the bird to find it again, but now I see ruby-throated hummingbirds — female, I think — visit several times a day.

For a hummingbird feeder, the design matters a little more. My first feeder was swarmed by bees toward the end of the summer; I replaced it with a feeder that has bee guards. So far, no problems.

Don’t overthink the hummingbird food, either. The Audubon Society recommends one part white sugar to four parts water. Don’t add any dye, and don’t try to get fancy with honey or anything. Just sugar and water. Wash and refill the feeder twice a week.

That’s it — just hang a feeder, fill it, and enjoy. Every one of my feeders has been cheap, and the food I put in it is always the simplest option. (In the winter, I buy suet cakes for a buck apiece, also a hack.) And the birds keep coming.

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