We love feeding the birds and the pleasures that come with it: the songs, the colors, the interactions, the young and so much more! The only thing Steven doesn’t love is cleaning up around the bird-feeding areas, but as in-charge of feeder filling and upkeep he’s the expert.
“Clean-up can be more of a chore than you’d imagine,” Steven says, “depending on what foods and types of feeders are involved. We have a number of feeding stations, three of which require ground-level clean-up every few months.”
Here he has two types of tube feeders hanging from a dead spruce.
We fill the triple tube with a mix of seeds designed for finches: sunflower that’s been hulled and cracked, niger, and a small amount of other tiny seeds.
The single tube holds a mix of sunflower seeds (both striped and black), hulled sunflower seeds and safflower. We call this tube the sacrificial squirrel feeder, because the squirrels prefer it. If we keep it filled, they leave the triple tube alone.
Here the first step must be breaking up the dense mat of niger hulls and uneaten seed. It is amazing how rain, snow, thousands of bird steps, and fungal threads can compact small seeds and chaff. Penetrating matted feeder debris may require a fork.
We use the feeder debris as mulch, choosing very shady areas to spread it since some of the seed may still sprout. Which reminds us to say: the niger seed favored by goldfinches and their kin is not the same “thistle” as the weed thistle gardeners battle. So do not blame a thistle invasion on bird feeders.
Station two is a platform feeder. Cardinals, jays, mourning doves and other birds prefer to eat here, or on the ground around it. We fill the jar with the mix that’s in the sacrificial squirrel feeder: striped sunflower seed, black sunflower seed, safflower and a bit of hulled sunflower.
Squirrels and chipmunks favor Station 2…
…we accept them here.
The ground for several feet in all directions is covered in hulls… and sprouting sunflowers. It’s not matted and can be raked, scooped and spread as mulch in a densely shaded area.
We spread feeder debris in shade primarily to discourage the viable seed but we have another concern. That’s the allelopathic properties of sunflower. Like black walnuts, sunflowers out-compete nearby plants by loading the soil with chemicals that discourage the growth of other species’ roots. The growth retardants are in all parts of the plant including the seed. So we don’t use these scrapings in a flower garden or around young shrubs, and we don’t try to grow a garden within several feet of a feeder.
Station three is a double hook that holds suet and a tube feeder 12’ above ground where Steven can see it from his office window.
Station Three dispenses hulled, cracked sunflower to goldfinches, chickadees, pine siskins and other small birds.
Woodpeckers, nuthatches and the occasional starling visit the suet.
There is little debris beneath this station but what’s there is oily. We sweep first, then use a strong stream of water and a brush, or a power washer to clean it away.
We call the Station Three area our bird patio and although we do sit here the main reason for paving it was knowing we’d be using water to fight seed build-up.
And we write this down to share what we’ve learned and help those just developing bird feeding stations to plan ahead as effectively!