This One is for The Birds (and their human admirers)

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

Rocks, an old toaster, baseball bats, a chrome hubcap, a coconut, a broken aluminum thermos and sundry jars, bottles and pans. Does this sound like the contents of a box you've been meaning to sort through since you moved 4 years ago? Is it a list of clutter in your garage where the car is supposed to go? Junk to toss into the tall grass out back?

Could be, but if you can muster imagination, and maybe some wire, you'll recognize this list for what it really is: materials for making perfect, one-of-a-kind bird feeders. In the December '94 issue of the Conservationist, we invited readers to send us pictures and descriptions of their favorite bird feeders. Scores of Missourians - people who see great bird feeder potential in broken skillets, rusty mailboxes and wet concrete - responded with enthusiasm and authority.

No matter what size city you live in, or spot of ground you have to call your own, hanging up a bird feeder is an easy way to come in contact with the natural world. Birds are beautiful, amusing and companionable. Building the right feeder for them, as many letter-writers told us, can be as simple or elaborate an endeavor as you choose.

About 85 percent of bird feeder architects we heard from described the ease and satisfaction gained by recycling stuff, turning it into just the thing for cardinals, titmice and, grudgingly, squirrels. Two skillets (with holes drilled through the centers for a post) work well for Joanna Charleville from Pontiac. Plenty of readers suggested making feeders out of 2-liter soda, bleach and dish soap bottles. The champion of all recyclers perhaps is Henry Raab from Belleville, Ill. He used an aluminum hanging lamp shade, plastic popcorn popper, cookie serving tray, clothes dryer vent, cast-off galvanized pipe and pieces of wood - all for one feeder.

Marie Cazaux, a resident of Festus, found a way to recycle a broken thermos. She removed the glass shards, drilled holes horizontally through the thermos canister and placed two long bolts through the holes. The bolts, held in place with nuts at each end, extend beyond the sides of the thermos and serve as perches for birds. She drilled feeding holes just above the perches.

Cazaux recommends filling the thermos feeder with small seed or thistle but says large seeds work if the feeding holes are sized accordingly. She says a section of old stovepipe, in place of a thermos, will work too.

Ted Soldanels of Rockville is another recycler. He made his bird feeder by laying boards across a discarded wheat drill he found in some brush on his property. Titmice, juncos, cardinals, blue jays and woodpeckers all feed from it, reports Soldanels, but they scatter when Chester - a rooster - and the hens come calling.

"I wanted a free-standing, movable feeder - one that I could place by a window, or under a tree and that I could move out of the way of my lawn mower during the summer," wrote Marian Goodding from Licking.

Goodding filled an old car tire with odd junk she wanted to get rid of, such as bent rakes, bits of screen and rocks, then filled the remaining space with concrete. She propped up an old piece of water pipe in the middle of the concrete, upon which her basic bird feeder rests.

"Because the tire - full of cement - is heavy, it doesn't blow over. Because the tire is round, I can move it by removing the feeder, using the pipe as a handle and lever, and rolling it where I want it. My only expense was the half-bag or so of concrete, the rest was recycled or free," she wrote.

Concrete was a logical medium for Kurt Kargel of Willow Springs, who is a carpenter and concrete finisher by trade. Kargel made an elegant, hexagonal feeder entirely out of concrete. It rests atop an antique milk can, roof adorned with a U.S. flag. He wrote that 46 species have visited his feeder since 1972, when he began keeping track.

But whose list of visitors to the bird feeder doesn't include voracious, chattering and sometimes crafty squirrels? Several readers reported being plagued by these un-birdlike creatures who either ate everything in sight or destroyed perfectly good feeders by chewing on them.

William Altschuh of Ballwin suggests edging wood feeders with scraps of aluminum or corner bead leftover from a dry-wall project. This keeps squirrels from chewing and damaging wood feeders. Other readers suggested affixing old pot lids, pie pans or saucers above and below feeders that hang from wire or rope - the bigger in diameter, the better. Still others have concluded there is no such thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder and have resigned themselves to feeding everybody, even an occasional raccoon.

Having won her battle against squirrels by rigging shields above and below her feeder, Nevada resident Marjorie Goss turned her attention to blue jays that were intimidating the smaller birds. She noticed the feeder shook every time the jays landed, so she attached a chime to the bottom of the feeder. It jingled when the birds landed and, for awhile, the noise frightened them off. Soon, however, they grew fearless. So she tied eight ribbons to the edge of the roof, letting them dangle in front of the perches. To the bottom of each ribbon, she attached a Christmas bell. The jays were too big to navigate between the ribbons.

"As for the smaller birds, they weren't troubled at all by any of these strange devices. The contraption is a peculiar addition to the patio, but it does what I want it to do - it welcomes the downy woodpeckers and nuthatches, titmice and chickadees."

By going bulk, Vince Staudenmyer, Williamsburg, found a way to provide enough food for all. Staudenmyer's bird feeder holds 125 pounds of seed. About 50 pounds consists of sunflower seeds, the rest is a mix. The feeder is in commission from October through April, he says, and it only requires two fillings per season.

"The idea came about when I realized I still had a chicken feeder from the old days of raising fryers." He found he needed to modify it by building a platform for it to rest on and a roof to keep water out of the tray. The feeder sits on the platform, which can be raised or lowered by a rope and pulley, strung to a tree branch.

"It's a neat way to recycle an old feeder," he wrote. "Bird seed purchased in bulk is less expensive, and it holds so much, I don't have to store extra seed anywhere. It makes a great conversation piece, and it provides a nice landmark when giving directions to visitors from the city." He enclosed a picture of the feeder that showed at least 17 cardinals using it at once.

"The house finches swarm into it like crazy," wrote Arthur Haenni of St. Louis about his feeder that extends from a pole on the side of his house. Cardinals also love it and get along fine with the finches, also downy woodpeckers, chickadees and flickers, but when the blue jays or starlings come along, they scram.

"Just for the fun of it, I counted the number of sunflowers seeds in a quarter cup: 480, and by that count determined a filling requires over 20,000 seeds, and you can believe they empty it in eight hours in the summer time. I have to get a 50-pound bag about every six weeks in the summer, but I love their company." Haenni is 92 years old and until 1987, owned Arneson Pattern Company - Wood Patterns and Models in St. Louis.

Hand painted decorations, tall steeples with bells, footed columns and a split-shingle, gingerbread roof adorn Sullivan resident Lawrence Schnelting's bird feeder. He made use of new materials, such as lattice, cedar and CCA-treated wood to construct his decorative and roomy feeder.

If Schnelting has constructed the Taj Mahal of bird feeders, Shirley White has discovered the cozy economy of the trailer-house bird feeder. A resident of Piedmont, White made a feeder out of a standard highway mailbox. She cut a hole in the top of it, turned it upside down, let the post run up through the hole she cut, and propped the door open. The door serves as a roof or porch awning. She bent the red flag out sideways to make a perch for visitors. The seed is inside the box where the mail used to belong.

And speaking of mailboxes, Arthur Hampton of DeSoto, wrote, "There used to be a rough spot on the edge of the blacktop in the middle of a curve by our house. Cars hitting this spot sometimes lose hubcaps. I'd lean them against my mailbox post for owners to spot and reclaim them. One was never picked up, so I put a 14-inch length of 6-inch galvanized furnace duct upright in the "bowl" of the hubcap and attached it with pieces of scrap metal bent at a 90 degree angle, leaving about a quarter-inch gap at the bottom for the bird seed to spill through into the bowl." He fashioned a roof out of part of a discarded water heater.

Hampton's wife was skeptical. "What's-her-name pronounced it to be ugly," wrote Hampton. "But so am I. In a few days we got used to it, and besides, it's in the back of the house, and the birds like it!"

And isn't that the point? Next time you think about tossing that collection of coffee cans, hauling away the broken dryer or composting scrap lumber, pause and think a minute. Maybe, quite literally, it could all be "for the birds." triangle

Improve your Guest List

The guest list at your bird feeder can grow the longest during the spring and fall seasons. That's because Missouri is visited by an ever-changing variety of migrating birds. Here are some feeding tips:

  • Sunflower and thistle seeds are appealing to birds in summer as well as winter.
  • Try leaving orange halves on open platforms to attract orioles, catbirds, mockingbirds and wax-wings. Try wild plums, cherries, blackberries or mulberries too.
  • Meal worms, placed in feeders designed to accommodate them, may attract bluebirds and other small insect-eating birds.
  • In warmer weather, be sure to keep feeders and the ground beneath them clean. Diseases are more likely transmitted between birds that regularly congregate near heavily used, dirty areas.
  • Remember that suet spoils quickly in warm weather.
  • Keep your bird bath full of water, and clean it periodically. Be sure your bird bath has a shallow area about an inch deep where birds can stand to drink, bathe or wash their food.

For publications about attracting and feeding birds, write:

Missouri Department of Conservation,
Natural History Division,
P.O. Box 180,
Jefferson City, Missouri
65102-1080.

Aric Wasson, Sedalia: Coconut Bird Feeder

"This was real neat to make because we got to eat the coconut and drink the milk," says Aric Wasson. "You can leave the coconut in and let the birds eat it." Aric is a fourth grader at Green Ridge School in the city of Green Ridge. Last year, he joined Cub Scout Pack 59. As a bear member of the pack, Aric made his bird feeder out of a coconut.

He used a basic wood saw to cut the opening and a drill to make holes for the wire hanger. "You can put any kind of food in it, and you don't have to worry about the birds getting wet food. It's hanging from a coat hanger out in the cedar tree, and we fill it about once a week."

Glen Osborn, Ferguson: Baseball Bat Bird Feeder

You've probably heard of baseball bats packed with cork, but how about with peanut butter and suet? Glen Osborn won't be hitting home runs with his bat, but the birds in his yard sure have scored on the sacrifice. "I had a couple of old bats lying around, and the idea just came to me," explains Osborn, who is retired from the accounting department of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

"They usually break down near the handle, so a bird feeder is about all they're good for." Osborn drills three rows of holes evenly spaced around the bat. Dowels serve as perches. Carolina wrens, downy woodpeckers, house finches and chickadees all visit the feeder, which Osborn hangs just outside his kitchen window.

Ken Richardson, Springfield: Clay Bird Feeders

"Initially, the birds were kind of hesitant," says Ken Richardson, of his earthenware sculptured bird feeders. "I'd say they stayed away for 30 minutes or so after I filled the first one. They looked it over pretty carefully." But soon his feeders were attracting a variety of birds.

The birds hop among clay figures; they eat seeds from tiny sidewalk scenes, near people sitting on a bench or peaking around corners, among animals crawling this way and that. Richardson is a librarian in a middle school, but has been making functional pottery for several years. He travels to art festivals and exhibits around the state.

"Every one is different, and I try to personalize each one. They kind of evolve."

Terra Landholt, Hermann: Landholt General Store Bird Feeder

Built by her great uncle, Joe Landholt, Terra Landholt's bird feeder is a replica of the store her great, great-grandfather owned in Starkenburg. Terra was 5 years old when she won the feeder as a prize at a family reunion. "We all put our names on a piece of paper, then in a bag. They were all shook up, and my name was pulled out."

Joe Landholt remembers visiting the store in Starkenburg as a child. "My grandfather established the store in 1900 and he was also the Postmaster," he explains. "I built this feeder based on what I remember, when I visited the store later on as a kid. I've made one for every one of my nieces and nephews so they'll know a little bit of family history." Terra Landholt decided the feeder was too nice to put outside, so she keeps it in her room.

Ozzie Overby and Robert Howland, Columbia: Parthenon Bird Feeder

If it's possible to build a bird feeder that up-stages your house, then Ozzie Overby and Robert Howland have done it. Father- and son-in-law, they recreated one of the world's most architecturally magnificent structures: the Parthenon, which sits atop the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Sometimes neighborhood kids ask what it is. "I usually tell them it's an exploration of the dialogue between culture and nature. I'm not sure what they go home and tell their parents," says Overby, with a smile. "But then I give them the real answer."

Howland built the Parthenon-feeder out of plywood. He used plastic soldiers and a disassembled nativity scene to recreate the friezes on each end. Overby came up with the idea to mount it on a column, which he salvaged from a house that was being torn down. "It's just another weird thing in my father-in-law's yard," says Howland. "Only this time, I'm an accomplice."

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