The joys - and challenges - of feeding birds

Susan Manzke
Bob fixing a birdfeeder after a raccoon raid.

As I was fussing around one of my old birdfeeders today, my mind went back to my late husband, Bob. He was the one who made all our wood bird feeders. Bob designed and hung them and then fixed them and rehung the ones on the front porch.

From the early days of our life in Seymour, Wisconsin, we loved feeding the birds. The feeders had to be near a window where we could watch the outside action. Our first feeder was a stump too big for our wood burner. It rested outside our picture window of our home on Gardner Road. Our young children would gaze out watching our feathered friends come and go—the cats would, too, sometimes bumping their noses on the glass in an effort to catch a bird.

Today, I didn’t fill the feeder as I once had. Visiting raccoons put an end to that.

For too long, raccoons have shimmied up the porch post to get to the bird food. In the morning, it was usually empty. A few times, those masked marauders even tore the feeder apart.

Of course, Bob would patch everything back together again. He raised the feeders on the post, hoping that would discourage the raccoons, and then refill the bird food.

By morning, it was empty again.

Bob had another idea to dissuade the coons from their nightly raid. He considered setting up a short strip of electric fencing. He never did this because he wasn’t sure if it might hurt the birds or even one of the barn cats if it took a flying leap at a visiting bird.

A while ago, I thought about removing Bob’s two homemade birdfeeders. A couple hanging plastic models would replace them—there are two out there now.

Anyway, I couldn’t bring myself to remove his handiwork. Instead, I started a different feeding regimen. Now, every morning, after I feed the barn cats, I pour out a cup of sunflower seeds and two cups of peanuts. The two hanging feeders have some small seeds for those who want them.

A nuthatch visiting Susan's feeder and helps himself to a peanut.

By mid-morning, the peanuts are gone, mostly eaten by blue jays.

One morning this past August, I had my kitchen window open. I was talking to my sister on the phone when a blue jay came to the feeder and found it empty—the ringing phone had postponed me from setting out the peanuts. Well, while Karen and I were talking, a few sharp bird noises came at me through the window opening. A blue jay was reminding me of my failure to feed him. My sister heard his chatter over the phone. She couldn’t believe it was a blue jay yelling, “Feed me!”

The raccoons still visit here, but by the time they climb the post, the bird food is mostly gone. All they glean are a few scraps.

Months ago, I bought a 50-pound bag of peanuts in the shell. Ugh, what a mess. The shells were all over the porch and also around the yard. After that I changed to buying the nuts without the shells—I splurged and also got a 50-pound bag.

I will not go back to peanuts in the shell. There are no shell leftovers on my porch now and that’s the way I prefer it. Sunflowers still come here in their shell, but those don’t seem to leave such a mess.

Well-fed cats ignoring birds at the feeder.

For this column, I stood quietly outside and took photos of small birds at my feeder. The blue jays wouldn’t come while I was on the porch. Even though they bully the other birds away from the food, they were too afraid to come close—I was about four feet away.

I will continue to feed my birds. It’s still fairly cheap (cheep) entertainment.

FYI: If you are thinking about buying one of my children’s books, All the Queen’s Crowns, I have some for sale. The softcover is $12.99 and the hardcover is $17.99, plus $5 postage. They are also for sale at Sissy’s in Seymour. You can also ask your local bookstore to get a copy for you or suggest your library get one to loan out.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;;;