Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bird Feeding On A Budget

The popularity of back yard bird watching has exploded over the past few years. With increased numbers of people searching for bird feeders, the retail industry has responded with a dizzying variety of options.

I was in a large hardware store recently, gazing at the wealth of bird feeders on display. A man standing next to me with a bewildered look on his face said his wife had sent him down to buy a bird feeder. Did I know which one he should purchase? Thus began a 20 minute conversation about what kind of birds were in his yard (he didn't know), the variety of bird foods, and why this particular feeder would work for finches, that one for jays, and so on.

While the number of available feeders can be overwhelming to a new birder, the prices can be equally daunting. Like Halloween and Valentine's Day, the retail sector has turned backyard birdwaching into a major industry. It has become more about filling their bank accounts than feeding the birds, and that is just wrong.

Birds want food. They don't need, or care about, pretty little ceramic daisies or feeders designed to look like mini-mansions, complete with windows (?) and high price tags.

As long as you don't mind the neighbors asking why you have a piece of wood hanging in your tree, we have a low cost bird feeding solution for you.

Walking the dog along the riverbank one day, my husband noticed a piece of firewood lying on the ground. By the time he got home, he had mentally completed his new bird feeder design. (I've long since given up trying to figure out how his mind works...)

The wood has bark on one side so the nuthatches and woodpeckers can hang on. He drilled a series of holes in it of different widths (1/4" - 7/32"), to a depth of not more than 3/4". (Bird feeding + power tool =  win win from his perspective.)

A trip to the local hardware store for some 1 1/4" screw-eyes ($1.29), and old piece of nylon cord, and we had a new bird feeder.

He then made a paste of chunky peanut butter and cornmeal, filled the holes with it, and smeared some on the bark. Designed for the birds and not its esthetic value, the birds absolutely love it.

Red-breasted Nutchatches in particular love this log, and one clever bird has even figured out how to pull the entire plug out at once, no doubt to cache it away in some other tree. I've seen up to three of them on the log at once, but wasn't quick enough with the camera.

Downy Woodpeckers are in love with this log too. They sit on it and nosh for about 10 minutes, moving from hole to hole, before flying away with undoubtedly full little tummies.

It took the squirrels a little longer to get used to this strange object in their tree. Soon however, they were quite pleased with their new dining centre. They lick the peanut butter off the surface in no time, and just look at all those hand/feet holds!

Happy birds and squirrels aside, we hadn't counted on having to refill the holes every few days. Since the nuthatch manages to pull the whole plug out, and the squirrels virtually park themselves on the log we need to do a bit of a rethink about what we mix with the peanut butter. Or we'll probably just get used to refilling it based on the requirements of the wildlife. Black-capped Chickadees are frequent visitors, and when the Northern Flickers discover this log, we may be looking at daily refills.

Even with the refilling demands we like this feeder. No more trips to buy expensive bird food, and just to be fair, we've hung a niger sock for the redpolls and finches on the back.  When the warmer weather gets here, we may even fasten an orange on the top for the orioles. 

Backyard birding doesn't get any better than this - a low cost feeder, adaptable for many species and cheap to refill. It also comes with the added benefit of dealing with a gooey mess on your fingers when filling the holes - a perfect way to get children interested in bird watching!

By Pat Bumstead


  1. I've done this before too Pat and that feeder always had wonderful birds on or around it and usually was the most active of my feeders. I even had Flying Squirrels on it at night. An excellent post!

  2. Great post with some really useful information!

  3. Great innovation Pat. As for the aesthetic, well, I daresay the most beautiful feeders are the ones that have birds on them, and yours is certainly popular!

  4. I am blessed with the same sort of husband and am lucky to have several of these types in yard as well as a steel tree or two to hang other feeders from-and he enjoys it and the birds-win all around! I do have some trouble with fire ants, but can keep them at bay with grease on the hangers-messy but effective-I use white petroleum which is less toxic-the squirrels have so far defeated me as has the night visiting 'coon sigh-baffles work most of the time for the bandits, so I call it even esp. if I remember to take them down at night

  5. Why such small holes? I find 1/2 inch hole easier to fill with peanut butter.

  6. This is a really neat idea. If only I had a yard, so I could put one up!

  7. Thank you all for your comments! The idea of the smaller holes was for the smaller birds, which in hindsight doesn't actually make much sense.:-) It's a work in progress...

  8. I love your log feeder!!! Please keep us informed when you perfect the design.:)

  9. Pat, this post inspired me. I had the stuff on hand to make one of these for myself yesterday evening. So, I did. Then I whipped up a batch of Zick Dough making it a bit more bark-butter like and put it up. Can't wait to see what birds are enjoying it this afternoon. I'm sure I'll have a blog post in the future featuring birds feeding on my Bumstead-feeder.

  10. Awesome post, what an innovative idea! I will have to try that one!

  11. Great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  12. What a splendid idea! I will have to put my husband to work with the drill. Thank you for sharing.

  13. I love this Yankee ingenuity! I do stuff like this myself, often just smearing peanut butter on the bark of a tree. I have also upended too large logs/stumps in my yard and use them as platform feeders. As you say, the birds love it!