Bob Belas Photography Blog

Denizens of the yard

I had some free time this weekend, not enough for a full-on hike, but just enough to practice in my backyard. I've planted and landscape my backyard so that it is creature-friendly, with a moderately large garden pond (it's been going for over 25 years, knock on wood, with goldfish, frogs, toads, salamanders, and plenty of other aquatic life), many bird- and bee-friendly plants and bushes, and several bird feeders and baths. As such, it teams with what most would call 'common suburban wildlife'. In particular, due to a large number of nut trees in and around my yard, I have a large squirrel population. The latest group of squirrels isn't as friendly towards humans as others have been, but nor are they entirely timid. When replenishing the food in my main bird feeder, the squirrels quickly dash up the large silver maple and hang out in the branches, watching me intently, and waiting for my departure. Case in point, the squirrel I spied watching and lounging in the mid-afternoon sun on a large branch (see below). He (or she) was quite content to just wait it out and didn't budge from that spot for the entire time I was out there; perhaps an hour or little more.

The Watcher

I get large numbers of birds at my feeders, unfortunately most of them are house sparrows. Not that I have anything against house sparrows, but they arrive in large flocks, often 20-30 birds, and quickly consume the bird seed. I reluctantly tolerate their presence at my black sunflower seed and peanut feeder, and at the thistle feeder, but not at the suet station. I've watched the house sparrows take a block of suet down to nothing in less than 3 hours! What to do? I've tried a lot of things, and the bottom line is none of them really work the way I wish they would work: stop the house sparrows and let all other 'song' birds eat. The best I have achieved is through using my own modification of something called the 'Magic Halo' (google it with 'house sparrow'). The idea is to dangle weighted wire lines from above the feeder. House sparrows will not fly through this thereby allowing other birds passage to the suet. Well, sort of. My version has a an old plastic mixing bowl inverted over the suet hanger to which I've strung four thin copper wire lines weighted down by metal nuts. You can see three of those wires in the photograph below. My version certainly keeps out house sparrows, while letting in Downy Woodpeckers and Carolina Wrens, but it also prevents all other birds from getting to the suet. I've come to accept this, and to acknowledge that the wires are kind of a pain in the neck, as they frequently tangle up when the winds kick up, but otherwise do the trick. That block of suet the female Downy is eating (below) has been there for nearly two weeks, something that would have been a miracle a month ago.

Even with house sparrows, flocks of starlings, and the ever-present pigeons that descend on my feeders, I enjoy providing food and habitat for these creatures, and I hope I'll continue to see them (house sparrows included) for many years to come.

Take care,