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Bird feeders can be an excellent wintertime remedy for family lockdown boredom

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: October 15
  • Published October 15

Chickadee at bird feeder with evening woods in background (Thinkstock)

Continuing with my predictions that the virus will increase interest for particular activities, you can absolutely bank on backyard bird feeding becoming even more popular. With so many of us cooped up indoors because of cold weather and COVID-19, this is hardly a risky bet on my part.

It always makes sense to get bird feeders ready before the cold weather sets in. Given my prediction, however, there should be a bit of urgency to beat the crowds before shortages develop. So, if you don’t have feeders — and I do mean plural — don’t delay in getting or making some.

And, if my prediction is correct, there is likely to be a shortage of the right kind of bird feed. You probably should stock up now on black sunflower seeds, suet, peanut butter, whole peanuts and even some of the millet birds eat when really picky. You may even want to give your yard’s birds water in a bird bath. You can currently find all of these locally. Do not forget sturdy metal containers in which to store seed — rodents will eat into plastic ones.

I always advocate for putting out more than one kind of feeder so you will attract different kinds of birds. Different foods, of course, but feeders should also be located at different heights. Rig at least one feeder high up in a tree using a simple rope pulley system made by tossing the rope over the limb.

You can find feeders for sale all over this time of year. If you have yours from last year, make sure they are clean. A trip through the dishwasher or a scrub down with some bleach should do the trick. Like hoses in the summer, bird feeders should not leak. This wastes seed and puts it on the ground where the rodents of the area have free rein. There is absolutely no reason to the feed voles, mice and rats-with-tails that will be attracted to your feeders.

Rats with tails? Harsh, yes, but feeding squirrels is not part of bird feeding, IMHO. There are some really neat squirrel-proof feeders that use baffles and other tricks to keep these pests at bay. Heed my warning lest one day you discover some have invaded your house’s walls and eaten the insulation off a few wires. Don’t buy squirrel feeders.

You may want to invest in a bird cam to take photos and video of the visitors to your feeders. These are Bluetooth-connected to your computer for close-up and recorded viewing. There are several different types these days, so there is bound to be one that fits your situation.

You will need a bird identification book. “Birds of Alaska” is the standard Alaska one. It is in its sixth edition and everyone who has a feeder should have one to identify birds. Readers should also check out the Audubon Society. The site has a lot of information and there are five chapters covering Alaska, so your area will be included.

I can’t write responsibly about feeding birds without mentioning cats. All across the country — Alaska is no exception — neighborhood bulletin boards list callouts for lost cats as the number one topic. Please, please, please, keep yours indoors.

Of course, the most important question is: when can you put bird feeders out without attracting bears? The standard dates are from Nov. 1 to April 1, but it is weather-dependent, so stay tuned. In the meantime, get your supplies.

Jeff’s Alaska gardening calendar the week

Alaska Botanical Garden: Too much stuff to list, ranging from Halloween-inspired displays at The Garden to virtual classes on growing garlic. Go spend some time at alaskabg.org.

Frost: Indoor lights up yet? Hoses discounted

Driveways and walks: Staked so the snow clearer knows what is where?

Mulch: Garden beds

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