Summer bird feeding challenges

It’s most definitely upon us.  The time of year when many of you are faced with challenges certain backyard visitors present. They can really test ones patience. I’m talking about Grackles and Starlings, Raccoons, Chipmunks, and Mountain Lions.  Well, maybe not Mountain Lions.

Your bird feeders are of great interest to all afore mentioned birds and animals largely due to this being the breeding season.  I did not mention squirrels because we deal with them every day.  The others are more of a seasonal issue.  One thing worth mentioning about squirrels is they are more likely to eat safflower during this time. We’ve already heard from a few of you that squirrels have decided to start eating safflower when previously they did not.  Usually it’s the young squirrels that eat safflower.  This too shall pass.

 Adult Europian Starling

Adult Europian Starling

 Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

When Grackles and Starlings are on the nest they seek quick, easy food sources and will visit in droves bringing their babies as well.  We recommend a variety of strategies to lessen their impact:

  • Offer nothing but Safflower seed rather than sunflower or blends with shelled seeds, shelled peanuts, and fruit.  Safflower is smaller than sunflower and has a different shape, and a hard shell that Grackles and Starlings cannot crack open. 
  • We also suggest shutting down the feeders for a while, perhaps a week or two.  This can cause these sudden intruders to move along and be someone else’s problem.  Usually the Grackle/Starling pressure recedes by mid to late June when breeding is over.  The other birds you want will typically return to the feeders in no time.
  • Limit opportunities and any opportunities available should be difficult for a large bird like a grackle to use.  For instance, small bird only or caged type feeders.  Yes, this will also limit Cardinals but they would be happy to feed on whatever falls to the ground.  If you have a tube type feeder with straight perches consider cutting them in half.  They are usually made of aluminum and easy to cut.  Half a perch will present great difficulties for a Grackle and Starling but your small birds will use them easily.
  • Suet is a favorite food source during this time because it’s soft and easy to take large chunks.  Again, removing the food source for a week may cause the problems to move on.  Another thing to try is take note of the timing of their visits.  You can offer smaller amounts of food, like a third of a suet cake at a time, so your desired visitors have a consistent food source for part of the day. When the problem visitors show up there is little food remaining. 
  • Squirrel proof suet feeders are very effective at keeping squirrels out but not always the Grackles.  Only the largest Squirrel proof suet feeders provide enough distance between the food source and the outer cage to stop Grackles and Starlings.

Next to Grackles and Starlings there’s a tie for most complaints between Raccoons and Chipmunks.  Raccoons are expert climbers, they have great dexterity in their paws, which are really like hands, they can grow to be quite large, and their strength and brain power far exceeds that of a squirrel.  Many of you find your feeders on the ground in the mornings damaged with squirrels gathered round feasting on the exposed seed.  This is a sure sign that a raccoon has been working the night shift as they are mostly nocturnal.  They will take feeders off hooks and hangers with ease, take the lids off and eat until they are satisfied.  Here are some suggestions for reducing raccoon problems:

  • Bring in feeders at night that are accessible to raccoons.  It may take a few weeks to condition the raccoon to not to show up.  After a few weeks try leaving a feeder out one night to see if they have gotten the idea that no food would be available.  Continue taking the feeder in if you see evidence they’ve been there.
  • The “limited amount” strategy works well here, too.  If it’s suet they are getting only put a third or half a cake in the feeder. By nightfall when the raccoon shows up there would be little if anything left.   
  • Raccoon baffles for pole systems, which are much larger than squirrel baffles, are very effective.  Follow directions and you will have success.  A squirrel baffle will not likely stop a motivated raccoon. 
  • This is not my favorite strategy but some people will make food available in places away from feeders.  They might offer table scraps, corn, or cat food to satisfy the raccoons.  I see evidence of raccoons getting in my compost pile where I put everything from coffee grounds to old fruit and vegetable scraps. In my opinion this strategy just encourages their desire to visit.

Chipmunks are challenging in that they can squeeze through caged squirrel proof feeders and they are usually not heavy enough to activate a weight activated feeder.  And they like safflower.  However, any squirrel baffle will stop them cold. 

Be patient.  We need to try and be tolerant of wildlife even when they are pesky. 

Bird Bio: Pileated Woodpecker

 Male Pileated Woodpecker

Male Pileated Woodpecker

 Female Pileated Woodpecker

Female Pileated Woodpecker

Migration is in full swing and birdwatching is almost at its peak as neo-tropical migrants are arriving and passing through middle TN.  For daily birdwatching reports to your E-mail you may subscribe to TNBird@freelist.org.

At your feeders you may be seeing the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the Indigo Bunting.  Keep an eye out for these beautiful birds because their presence at the feeders only lasts for a few weeks.  Usually by mid-May they will have moved on.  Indigo Buntings can be seen all summer long especially in fields and meadows, and in areas along the Harpeth River.  The Harpeth River Greenway is an excellent place to see Indigo’s. There is access to the greenway from the back of the warner parks or from Reese Smith Jr. baseball fields.  Both species are very interested in bird feeders and will go for a variety of feeds including black-oil sunflower, safflower, and millet. 

But this week we are going to profile the Pileated Woodpecker only because I captured some great video of one working an old rotting stump for food.  The normally very shy woodpecker was so intent on extracting ants, beetles and larvae from this stump it did not seem to be concerned that I was close by.

With the probable extinction of the Ivory-billed woodpecker the Pileated Woodpecker is now the largest member of the Picidae family in North America.  This crow sized woodpecker, up to 19” in length, is an impressive bird known for its bright red crest.  In fact, “Pileated” means “crested”.  Males tend to be 10 to 15 percent heavier than females and can be distinguished from females by the red mustache stripes.  Note the red mustache on this male in the video.   On males the red crest extends from the bill to the nape of the neck while on females it is smaller.  They are often heard and not seen in dense wooded areas.  The call is loud, high-pitched and nasal, and is given as a single note or in a series.  

The Pileated Woodpecker’s main food source is insects and when available seasonal berries.  One fall I witnessed a pair of Pileated’s strip every berry off a Dogwood tree in my yard.  They are excellent excavators, as you can see in the video, and are important to other species of birds and animals for that reason.  Other birds and animals eventually take up residence in the abandoned nest sites.  Pileated woodpeckers excavate a new nest site every year and mate for life.

If you live in an area of dense woods you are likely to see these great birds but do not expect them to visit feeders.  Although there are occasions for this bird to visit feeders it is uncommon.  During the spring months while they are on nest is the most likely time to see them take advantage of suet or shelled peanuts.   

Get out there and enjoy some birdwatching this weekend. It will be perfect conditions to get out early and take a walk with the binoculars.    

Product Profile: NO/NO Feeders

Hour glass style holds up to 6 lb. of seed.

5 tier feeder has two perch rings and a tray at base. Holds up to 5lb. of seed.

Three tier with tray at base.

The cardinal feeder has a wide tray at the base that cardinal prefer.

NO/NO stands for no wood, no plastic. These durable long lasting wire mesh feeders have been around for as long as I can remember. The diamond mesh make these feeders great for black oil sunflower but they can also be used for a shelled peanuts or our woodland blend. They come equip with perches but the wire mesh lets birds cling strait to the feeder at any point and feed. This allows more birds access to the feeder. The wire mesh also allows this feeder to fold flat for storage when not in use. With four sizes to choose from one of these feeders would make a great addition to your bird feeder collection.

We are running a over stock special on NO/NO feeders! 

Save 40% while supplies last!

Campania Cast Stone Pre-Order Sale

Spring means yard and garden planning and, of course, Mothers Day is May 13.  

Have you been looking for just the right birdbath, fountain, statuary, or planters for your Mother or wife?


Between now and saturday April 14th  
you are invited to make a special order with The Wood Thrush Shop for Campania products and receive 20% off your order of $150 or more.

Feel free to look through Campania’s website for a full listing of products they offer. Or look through the catalog at our store. The address is www.campaniainternational.com 

The ordering and shipping process usually takes about 3 weeks from order to delivery. This is because Campania makes their cast-stone pieces to order.

Please call, email, or come by the shop with any questions you may have and for item pricing.
Phone: 615-356-7640
e-mail: thewoodthrushshop@gmail.com

All special order sales are final unless the product arrives damaged or defective.
We require a 50% down payment of your full purchase price.
Special delivery on large items from our store to your home is available for an additional fee.

Bird Bio: Baltimore & Orchard Oriole

Adult male Baltimore Oriole 

Adult male Orchard Oriole

In just a couple of weeks, around mid-April, we will have an opportunity to see Baltimore and Orchard Orioles as they move through mid-TN.  I say move through because we see very few Orioles spending the summer here.  Every spring we are asked by customers if we carry Oriole feeders, and if we can suggest the best ways to attract them.  First let’s look at the profiles of these birds. 

The Baltimore Oriole is a fairly common spring and early fall migrant.  They migrate through TN on the way to their breeding destinations, which tend to be north of TN.  Some of my bird store associates in Iowa and Ohio do a very strong “Oriole” business because they are in the heart of Oriole breeding territory.  Both species of Oriole are insect, fruit and nectar feeders.

The Baltimore is the more familiar of the two and is known for its bold orange and black plumage. Females are olive to brown above and burnt orange-yellow below.  White wing bars are very noticeable. Baltimore’s are about 8” in length, are long tailed, and have sharply pointed beaks.

The Orchard Oriole is slightly smaller.  The male is a rich chestnut color on its underparts and black above.  Females are an olive-green above and yellowish below, much like female Tanagers, but have distinguishable white wing bars.

Over the course of 25 years I have tried various proven methods of attracting Orioles to my yard with little success.  Available information about Orioles suggests orange halves and jelly are the two most common food choices to grab an Orioles attention.   None of my attempts with these offerings ever produced results.

The years I did attract them I did nothing specific to make it happen.  A few times I had multiple male Orioles visiting hummingbird feeders, and other years it has been the moving water source (fountain) that is very popular with all birds.  The times they decided to come to hummingbird feeders were likely a result of a lack of natural food sources they would normally be drawn to during their spring travel. Over the course of the few days Orioles were visiting my hummingbird feeders I also presented orange halves in plain view, because that’s what you always see pictures of them feeding on, but they showed no interest and seemed to be content with the sugar water nectar.

Types of Feeders for Orioles

A simple suet basket is a great feeder because it’s very easy to drop an orange half or bunch of grapes in and hang on a tree or shepherds pole.  The glass dish type feeders we sell for feeding Bluebirds are also good options for nectar, mealworms, and fruit.  We also carry hanging fruit feeders on which the fruit is held with a spike.  As for nectar feeders I think the Aspects brand feeders are most suitable and an orange can be impaled on the hanging rod of the feeder for extra appeal.

These small dish feeders we stock are great for feeding fruit, nectar, jelly or just about anything. 

Suet feeders are great for holding fresh fruit such as apple and orange halves and grapes.

We offer this simple fruit feeder at the shop that works great for apples and oranges.

Aspects feeders are most suitable for orioles. Orange halves can be added to center stem.

There is still time to sign up for the spring birdsong workshop with Richard Connors. For more information and dates read our last blog "Spring Migration" for info. Contact Richard at Rconnorsphoto@aol.com to sign up.