Challenges In Birding

Tuesday, July 20, 2021 - by Jen Jeffrey Billington

When I began “birding” this Spring, I wrote of the beauty I saw through my binoculars, in which I had not ever seen before. Birds with red, birds with blue, and birds with yellow. That alone, prompted me to become a “bird lady” – you know, like the one in the Mary Poppins movie who “feeds the birds, tuppence a bag.” 

I bought a couple of feeders and a Birding guide to identify the birds, and to learn their habits and what attracts them. As I learned that Goldfinches liked to eat from the tubular feeders, and they had a certain feed with various tiny seeds. I wanted to see more of them, so I bought one of those feeders. 

Running out of hooks on my porch roof, I invested in a feeder pole which was a tall shepherd’s hook with several hooks to place feeders. I bought two. 

Similar, to when I first became a horse owner and having up to eight horses at one time – and quickly learning that I needed to downsize; because as much as you love something – having several of that something is a lot of work and causes you to spend much more.

But I was happy with my feeding stations and seeing these pretty birds. I attracted three different kind of Woodpeckers – the Red-Bellied, the Red-Headed, and the Downy. Some of my favorite birds, were the Nuthatches and Carolina Chickadee. Mockingbirds, Cardinals and Chipping Sparrows were plentiful.

I started giving names to the ones who nested in nearby hedges and trees, as I learned their differentiations and coloring. What a fun hobby to photograph these birds and not worry about anything but keeping fresh water and filled seed trays. 

In my last story about birding, I wrote of the ‘downside’ to birding in my area. 

Living in the county, I am surrounded by wildlife. When the wildlife of the forest hears the happy songs of many birds in one spot for a long period, they are going to see what they are so happy about! I attracted a possum and a racoon.

My bliss was soon thwarted and I had to learn strategy in order to keep them from emptying (or destroying) my feeders in one night. They worked as a team and while the racoon climbed to the feeders, the possum cleaned up the seed he dropped to the ground.

At first, I welcomed the racoon. He was cute and I even got a night time picture that you can see in my previous story from this link: https://www.chattanoogan.com/2021/6/3/429369/The-Innocence-Of-The-Beginner-Birder.aspx.

In my Birder’s group on Facebook, I asked other birders if they had racoon issues and what they did about them. I only had one person who racked me over the coals telling me the racoons need to eat too. 

Uh yeah, I am aware of that, and that’s why God made insects, berries… most people were helpful and told me about a racoon baffle to place on the feeders, but I felt my racoon was too smart for that. 

Some told me they brought their feeders inside. I thought about my ten feeders and carrying them inside each night. I doubted that would work for me, but every night, I caught the bandit eating away, emptying my feeders.

So, I began bringing the feeders inside. It was not too bad really. I left the poles in the ground and just brought in the feeders that were hooked onto them. I gathered them in no time, and the only thing unpleasant about it, was the thought of bringing them into my house – some had bird ‘white stuff’ on them.

So, I decided to get a small, portable shed to keep my tall cans full of bird seed, and to hold the feeders at night.

It worked! Bandit and his cohort did not show up again. I had a lock for the shed, so unless he was MacGyver, he could not get to the seed. 

Sometimes in the night, I would check to see if I saw Bandit or the possum eating what the birds dropped on the ground, but there was no sign of them at all. Problem solved!

A week later, I was opening the shed one morning and noticed a small hole at the bottom left side in the crease. I asked myself, “Was …that opening already there?” I looked over at the right and there was not an opening like the one on the left. I looked closer at the hole and observed it had been chewed.

Great. Another nemesis to fight. Not only was this another challenge to my bird bliss, but I was disheartened that my new shed (made of durable plastic) was already compromised! 

The little mouse didn’t eat as much as the racoon did, so I didn’t let it stress me too much.

After a few mornings of seeing the seeds scattered a little, knowing he was visiting each night, I decided to put a trap inside the shed before he let his friends know his dirty little secret. The next day the trap was untouched. Good… maybe he was gone. 

In the cool of the early mornings, I watch all the pretty birds gather at the fountain and the feeders. Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, Thrashers, Goldfinches, House Finches, Blue Buntings, Cardinals, Sparrows, and more. Their morning praise fills the air!

One morning, I noticed the trap was sprung - yet no mouse! I had a MacGyver mouse. 
Since my fresh seed was in aluminum cans, he was not getting into that, but I’m sure he ate some of the seed in the bird feeders that I put inside each night.

I had heard that planting mint keeps mice away. I didn’t have fresh mint planted, and I was desperate, so I looked in my spice rack for mint. I didn’t have any, but I wondered if maybe… CAYENNE PEPPER!

That would teach him a lesson.

I sprinkled a little around the hole and down in the hole. The next morning, the powdery pepper was untouched – no tiny footprints anywhere. It worked! But …I soon realized, my friend doesn’t come every night, because the pepper was scattered the following morning, leaving evidence of the intruder. 

Running out of ideas, last night, I had placed one of the feeders over the hole, hoping he couldn’t push through. And this morning, the smart little mouse hurt my feelings. 

As I reached for my prettiest feeder – the one with stained glass on the sides and wood painted white; I saw it had been chewed as Mac was determined to get his midnight snack. 

Now, I am not one to give up – but I have learned in life, we sometimes have to have a plan B, (and C, D, and E). 

While I contemplate my next step making sure Mac doesn’t come back, I still enjoy seeing my feathered friends gathering around, and making it all worthwhile. 

jenjeffreybillington@gmail.com.


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