Bird Feeders That Work

There are products on the market everywhere that don't work very well, even that don't work at all for the purpose for which they were sold. But, an extraordinary percentage of bird feeders seem to have never been tested with real squirrels, rain or wind.

A Silo Feeder

Here's a plastic silo feeder that's widely sold in two sizes. It's supplied with a wire loop to permit hanging it from an eave or tree, and is pole mountable. It can be easily taken apart to thoroughly clean mouldy seed out.

It's first problem is the wide slots. Grackles in particular sweep their bills from side to side, and dump half the seed onto the ground. It can be fixed by gluing a baffle at the center of each slot as shown, so grackles have to keep their bills straight.

When pole mounted, it has an additional problem: strong wind. The cover blows off and is left to dangle on the end of the wire cable, while the seed in the feeder gets soaked with rain. The cover is supposed to latch onto the sides, but the latches are so tiny that they simply don't hold. To fix that problem, replace the wire with a piece of rigid wire glued into the feeder's central column with caulking cement. A metal coat hanger is perfect. Make it long enough that the roof can be lifted far enough to easily fill the silo, and put a small kink on the end. Now, when the wind blows and the roof lifts, it falls back in place.

The traditional wood frame feeder also has this second problem if the roof piece isn't heavy enough. The solution for it is similar: drill a hole though the side of the roof piece into the frame side, then insert a nail. Bend the head end into a loop so it's easy to remove with mittens on, and tie the nail to the feeder with string so it won't vanish into the snow below.

plastic silo bird feeder

A 'Squirrel-proof' Feeder that Isn't

This feeder looks great on the surface: any squirrel holding onto the perches closes the baffles instantly. But as you can see, a red squirrel can defeat it by putting its paws through the mesh grid and holding onto the plastic directly. Not only that, some models have a base similar in size to the top: any squirrel, grey or red, can hold onto that and munch away. Most chipmunks aren't heavy enough to close the baffles. As if all that isn't enough, it's sold in two sizes, and the smaller one is so small that grey squirrels can hook a rear leg around the ring, lean over the edge of the roof and reach the top hole without closing the baffles.

One problem can be fixed: that about 30% of the seed ends up on the ground because the bottoms of the interior baffles are higher than the front edge of the access hole. Squirrels regularly clean up with the heap of seed that falls onto a chipmunk baffle or the ground. Here's how to make it work: glue in pieces of material to lower the inside of the entrance to the level of the bottom of the entrance hole. I used bendable plastic and Pliobond rubber cement. No more waste.

The springs are not rust-proof, so if you don't keep them moist with oil they will fail after two years and the baffle will fall shut. However, replacements are available from the manufacturer if you forget.

red squirrel defeating a feeder
how to fix it

A Close-to Squirrel-proof Feeder

This feeder is closer to squirrel-proof than any other I've found. Very few squirrels figure out how to hang onto the back of the side lever and stretch around to the front without closing the baffle.

It can still use two improvements. The seed gets wet in rainstorms, because the plastic windows aren't sealed to the frames, the front slot is open to the sky, and there's no drain! And, the bottom is too flat for seed to flow through the small front slot at outdoor humidity.

Here's how to make it work better: extend the roof so that the slot is covered, and apply caulking to all the seams. Drill a few small holes in the bottom of the feeding slot for wind-driven rain that gets by even the extended top. Then, add a piece inside that is sloped enough that the seed all flows to the feeding slot.

For constructing a squirrel stopper for other feeders, see Enjoying the Birds of the Ottawa Valley.

squirrel-proof bird feeder that doesn't work
how to fix it step 1
how to fix it step 2

A Hummingbird Feeder

Here's what should be one of the best hummingbird feeders. Every hummingbird around is attracted to its red imitation flowers.

What's wrong with it? The container has to be full almost to the top, or the difference in temperature between night and day, expanding and contracting the air above the sugar syrup, dumps most of it on the ground, or even worse on your porch floor where it sticks to your feet once dry. And, if your only good spot is exposed to sun, on a cloudy day, alternating between sun and shade, the entire contents can empty in an afternoon.

It can't be easily fixed. But, here's one that solves the problem. It's made by Par.A.Sol in Mexico. The feeding flower is above the liquid, and (unlike many of the company's other products) the container is entirely clear so you can see when the supply is low. Only one caution: the feeding tube is designed for hummingbirds with longer tongues than rubythroats, so in most of Canada it has to be kept at least 1/2 full so they can reach the syrup.

hummingbird feeder that doesn't work
hummingbird feeder that works

John Sankey
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