Are you having trouble filling your Christmas list? I am. It was easier and more fun when I could just write a letter to Santa. Santa never made mistakes. Well, except for that time he brought me Elmo underwear. I don’t know what went wrong that year.
Have you considered a bird feeder? A bird feeder for the backyard is a gift that shortens the distance between wild birds and people. A tube feeder filled with sunflower seeds attracts chickadees, titmice and finches. A platform feeder covered with millet brings in sparrows. A thistle tube will keep goldfinches fat and sassy.
There are a lot of really good feeders out there and a lot of bad ones, too. It’s easy to be drawn to the ones with all the artsy stuff on them. But a good rule of thumb when it comes to bird feeders is: the uglier the better. Bird feeders and guard dogs need to look downright ugly to get the job done. A bird feeder in the shape of a church, a castle, or Graceland isn’t going to make it through many winters — just like a Schnoodle, even if you take the bow out of its hair, isn’t going to keep many bad guys from stealing the gold you have hidden under your bed.
When I say ugly, I don’t mean it has to look like a gargoyle or the face of an Ultimate Fighting champion, but it can’t have cutesy flowers on it either. A good feeder should be all about lasting for years. And my experience is that the best feeders are made in this country. I have no problem with imported products but, unlike cameras and TV’s, the best bird feeders are made here.
A good feeder must be easy to fill, but it is more important that it be easy to clean. A good feeder is made to come apart easily so you can remove old or wet seeds. If you can’t figure out how to take a feeder apart and clean it, don’t buy it.
Many people buy large capacity feeders so they don’t have to fill them as often. That can be a mistake. In rainy weather seed will get wet and spoil before it can be eaten. Several small feeders may be a better choice than one that is extra-large. Also, birds are only protected by a thin layer of feathers, so avoid feeders with sharp metal or glass edges.
Wooden feeders appeal to many people and, if cared for, they will last. But often wooden feeders will be chewed up by squirrels. If you buy a wooden feeder you will need to protect it.
If you are going to buy the people on your Christmas list only one feeder, I suggest a tube feeder. Tube feeders are usually made of clear plastic three or four inches around and eighteen inches tall with metal perches — no, the birds’ feet won’t sick to metal in winter — and metal on other key points to protect against squirrels. Good tube feeders keep the seed reasonably dry, are easy to fill, easy to clean, and with baffles, easy to squirrel proof. They cost between 20 and 40 bucks and most come with a lifetime warranty.
I know what you are thinking. This all sounds good, but 20 to 40 bucks is a lot to spend on a Christmas present for all my relatives. If that’s how you feel, forget everything I’ve said and buy them all a set of Elmo underwear.
Merry Christmas and as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless us, every one!”
Rome native Stanley Tate sits on the Berry College Board of Visitors. He retired as executive vice president and chief environmental officer of Southwire and now writes a nature column that appears in several Georgia newspapers. Readers may write him firstname.lastname@example.org.