We all know about the bird feeding basics of food, water, and shelter. However, what often goes overlooked is bird feeding equipment that will make our lives easier and/or better for the birds. With the holidays coming up, consider adding a couple of these items to your holiday wish list. Here are my favorites:
1) Feeder Domes. The first item on this list has to be feeder domes. Feeder domes help deter squirrels, but they also help keep your seed dry in rainy weather. Dry seed means fresher seed and less waste. The domes also give our feathered friends a little shelter from the elements, especially in downpours when birds often keep feeding even when soaking wet. The best domes on the market are made by two companies, Aspects and Droll Yankees, both of whom make their domes from UV-stabilized polycarbonate that doesn’t crack or yellow with time. You’ll also get a lifetime warranty on these brands if there ever is a problem.
2) Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce. Second on my list of must haves is Cole's brand Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce. Are you tired of all those squirrels doing the Macarena on your bird feeders? Add a little of this hot seed sauce to your bird seed and they'll be trying to find the margarita mix instead. This liquid hot pepper blend deters squirrels (and other mammals such as raccoons and chipmunks) from eating your seed, because excluding humans, mammals just don't like hot sauce on their food. Birds don't have the taste receptors for capsaicin (the ingredient that makes hot peppers hot), so they chew down spiced up bird seed as well as they eat it just plain. A little of this stuff goes a long way, and considering the seed savings, it is worth the money.
3) Right-sized Cleaning Brushes. No self-respecting bird feeding aficionado can be without a set of cleaning brushes that are “right-sized” for the need. There are big brushes, long handled brushes, medium sized brushes, and even micro-brushes that can reach into feeding ports of hummingbird feeders. Just like there is a tool for every purpose, there is a brush for every cleaning need, and we should all have a set to make sure our feeders actually get clean when we do clean them.
4) Humm-Eze. Speaking of cleaning, Humm-eze is a product that helps clean hummingbird feeders without scrubbing. You place your hummingbird feeder in a sink or bucket with hot water, add a couple of tablespoons of Humm-eze, and let the product do the work. The water will turn pink as it works to eat away any mold or mildew that might occur in those hard to reach places in our hummingbird feeders. When the water turns clear, it’s done. Rinse, touch up if needed, and voila, you have a clean hummingbird feeder that will be ready for next season or the next round of hummers.
5) Bird Bath De-icers. If you don’t have a heated bird bath to keep the ice off your bird bath, then consider an electric de-icer. Using a de-icer will ensure that your birds have open water in which to drink during cold spells when most water can be frozen. Birds won’t drink frozen water (a.k.a. snow), so they still need liquid water. De-icers are easy to use, because they plug into a regular exterior outlet. The best de-icers have a built-in thermostat to shut off automatically should the water evaporate or get spilled from the basin. There is no worry about electrocution, because the end that goes in the water is just a heating element, and besides, they are all water-proof sealed.
6) Window Clings (or other window strike deterrents). Anyone who feeds birds will eventually have a bird or two that will fly into a window. In fact, millions of birds die in just this way each year across the nation. One way to help prevent this is to put window clings on the windows that the birds can see, so they realize your window should be avoided. There are many ways to help prevent window strikes and window clings are just one way. But they are a simple effective way.
7) Feeder Trays. Feeder trays are saucers that attach to the bottoms of tube feeders. As birds select seed from tube feeders, some of the seed may get pushed aside and end up on the ground. Feeder trays give seed a second chance to be eaten by first falling into the tray. Like feeder domes, the best ones are made of UV-stabilized polycarbonate that won’t yellow or crack. They should also have drainage holes to allow water to escape. Both Aspects and Droll Yankees make feeder trays that specially fit their respective feeder brands.
8) Binoculars. If you want a good look at the birds coming to your feeder, keep a set of binoculars near your favorite viewing location. If you haven’t looked through a set of modern binoculars (made in the last 15 years), you are doing your birdwatching fun a dis-service. Modern binoculars are light weight, have excellent close focusing range (often less than 8 feet), and can be used easily by eyeglass wearers. On top of that, advancements in modern optics have been so good that even the entry level models are often better than the higher end models of yesteryear. Expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $400 for a good set, but binoculars in this price range will last a lifetime and will rival the high end $2,500 models with ease. Armed with a good set of binoculars you will find that you your birdwatching pleasure will go up 10-fold.
9) Useable Field Guide. Whether you prefer books of birds with more pictures than words or prefer one with more words than pictures, a useable field guide is should be next those binoculars at your favorite bird viewing location. If you only view birds from inside your house, get a field guide that has a little size to it, especially if you find looking at those dinky sized pictures harder to do with age. There are several field guides that work well as indoor aids. Peterson makes two guides that are larger than typical field guides with larger pictures, and their Large Format edition even has large print. If you prefer a lot of pictures of birds, I highly recommend the Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds. This is more of a table top field guide due to its heft, but has pictures of birds from many distances, many angles, and in all seasons. We carry many types of field guides at The Bluebird Shed and you are welcome to flip through all of them to find the perfect fit. That’s why they are here!