Bird feeders bring endless entertainment

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Roger VanHaren

Because of some health problems, I’m considerably less active than I used to be a few years ago. I used to spend a lot of time outdoors, walking 18 holes of golf several days a week, biking, hiking, doing yardwork, etc.

Now that I can no longer do all those “active” things, I take pleasure in less strenuous activities. I read a lot, I write, I carve, I play some cards with friends. One of my favorite activities is watching the birds in our backyard.

A couple of years ago, we moved to a new home in a neighborhood completely across the city from where we’d lived for the previous 18 years. At our old house, I fed the birds on a bunch of feeders suspended from the branches of the trees in our enclosed patio. I think the birds liked it there because it was protected from the cold north and west winds. We had many birds who visited the feeders every day. (Not to mention the squirrels and chipmunks who fed there every day, as well.)

Then my health changed and I found it difficult to keep the feeders filled, so we lost our little feathered friends, and eventually we sold all the feeders at a series of garage sales in preparation for our move to the new house.

I don’t qualify as a “bird watcher” in the strictest sense. I don’t go out with binoculars searching for rare appearances of birds (or appearances of rare birds), and I don’t know all the calls and habits of native species. I have several good friends who do. But I do love to watch the birds who come to the feeders.

So, when we moved here, Marilyn said I should buy myself some new feeders and a supply of seed to see if we could attract some birds near the house. We could see two pairs of cardinals who seemed to hang around in the bushes at the back of the yard. So I did; I bought an all-in-one “bird-feeding station.” It’s one seven-foot-high pole with three hooks for tower feeders, a suet cage, and a niger-thistle bag, plus two flat trays. It’s really cool. I set it up about six feet away from the sliding glass doors in our kitchen eating area.

For the first three weeks that the “station” was out there, it was completely ignored by the neighborhood birds. Then one day after about two weeks, a single chickadee came in, took a seed and flew away. Chickadees are like that; they usually just take a seed and leave. Not like sparrows who nestle down in the seed tray and scatter seeds everywhere.

Then, for several days, we didn’t see any other visitors. I was really disappointed.

Then one morning about a week later, I opened the shade and there were eight goldfinches hanging on the thistle seed bag, happily pecking seeds through the mesh! I don’t know where they came from, but I was happy to see them. A couple of sparrows were sitting in the trays, happily spraying seeds around. The next day there were two dark-eyed juncos feeding on the ground where the sparrows had scattered the food.

The word must have spread around the neighborhood, because the following day we saw a downy woodpecker, and a female cardinal sneaked in for a brief visit. Still no male on the feeder, though, but I was encouraged. Two little house wrens joined the juncos on the ground, too.

Our next door neighbor, Shirley, has a row of very thick arbor vitae trees that seems to be teeming with birds now that they’ve found our feeder. The tree line is close to our house so that cuts the wind, too. It’s probably a nice place to stay out of the bitter cold winds we’ve been having. They’re such delicate little creatures; I don’t know how they withstand the cold.

This spring, we’ve had some wonderful avian visitors. Orioles (I’ve never had any luck getting them before) have been hanging around, eating our grape jelly and oranges. We’ve had rose-breasted grosbeaks, summer tanagers, goldfinches, chipping sparrows, cowbirds, and redwinged blackbirds. Mourning doves, juncos, and purple finches and a pair of mallards come to the feed station every day. We’ve seen a couple of bluejays and some downy woodpeckers, too, but they’re not “regulars.” Of course, we also get grackles, the neighborhood bullies.

I really like all the birds (except the grackles), but one of my favorites is the chickadee. How else can you describe a chickadee but “cute”? Its oversized round head, tiny body, black cap and bib; its white cheeks; its gray back, wings, and tail; and its whitish underside with buffy sides: It’s cute! The chickadees usually come in, take one seed and fly a few feet away, then come back for another. Cute!

After the ridiculous spring we’ve had, it’s nice to see that Mother Nature has finally shaped up and sent the birds back to entertain us.

Contact Roger VanHaren at