Confessions of a Bird Watcher
or, How to Stay in Shape Physically and Mentally During Social Isolation
“You’re going to get more mulch again, aren’t you?” My son asked glumly, in response to my brightly-worded statement that I was going to the garden center to look for a new bird feeder. “Where does it all go?“
“Never mind that,” my husband complained. “I was the one who carried in the last bags of earth.”
My daughter added her two cents. “I think you have an addiction to garden centers and bird feeders.”
You may be wondering what the relationship is between bird feeders, mulch, and earth? My pitiful story as a frustrated bird watcher will explain ALL:
This spring, with social distancing measures and travel restrictions in place, many people including myself, are nesting in their homes and back yards. The excuse of “no time” for those home renovation or decorating projects won’t fly. Bird-watching and gardening at home are simple pleasures and tasks that get us outdoors and enjoying nature safely.
I know I’m not alone – as we go on our daily walks around the neighborhood, it’s noticeable how green and lush everyone’s lawns are looking. Flower beds are well maintained (for the most part) and manicured shrubs, trees, and flowers are in full bloom. Bird feeder shelves at the department and hardware stores are picked over, if not empty. Everyone is enjoying the great outdoors at home this year, like it or not.
And I’ve been doing just that, beginning the first week of March when we first began to have warm weather. Forty bags of mulch and twenty bags of earth quickly made their way from the garden center to the car, and from the car into the back yard, courtesy of my son and husband. So where DOES all that earth and mulch go?
For starters, I expanded a flower/garden area that is heavily shaded by a mature Silver Maple tree and a Tulip tree. The grass never grew properly under the trees, nor under bird feeders because of dropped seed shells. Two problems solved with one solution = mulch. I added some teal Muskoka chairs (and a matching bird feeder!), a few shade-loving plants to fill empty spaces, and Presto! My own little shaded, garden zen oasis.
Next step was to fill all the patchy sections of grass and holes in the lawn. No, my backyard is not infested with rabbits. But I do have 3 lovable, pesky mini-dachshunds that patrol the yard for squirrels etc., and literally wear out the grass as they follow their self-approved route around the perimeter.
Dachshunds are scent hounds, and the breed was developed to help rid farmers of small to mid-size tunneling pests such as rodents and rabbits, as well the more dangerous foxes, and outright vicious badgers. Our dogs have killed mice, rabbits, squirrels, and even (TWICE!) skunks, to our ever-lasting horror (and even longer-lasting smell).
Dachshunds are known for their superior digging skills and tenacity in going after these yard and garden pests, which makes them great ball-chasers (not ball retrievers). Although dachshunds are not known for their gigantic brains, they tend to have all the humans in their house well-trained in catering to them.
It turns out that superior digging skills in a dog will result in constant hole-filling opportunities for the dog owner. Thus, the never-ending need for more earth and mulch, to fill holes in the yard and garden.
The Bird Feeder-Mulch Cycle
Step 1) Put up bird feeders, and move them around to optimal locations if necessary. I have different types of bird feeders, mostly I use feeders that make extravagant claims about being squirrel-proof. I hang my seed bird feeders from tree branches, rather than use poles, and I have a hummingbird feeder that hangs from an wire hooked into our eavestrough, so we can see it outside our patio door.
Step 2) Fill bird feeders with food to attract hummingbirds and different types of birds. I use hummingbird nectar (4 parts water to 1 part sugar) in the hummingbird feeder. In the other wild bird feeders, I use three different types of bird food: black oil sunflower, a mix of sunflower and other seeds, and nyjer seed.
Step 3) Wait for birds to find the bird feeder(s). While waiting, watch the squirrels eat from the bird feeder(s). If they can’t get to the seed, they don’t give up. They shake it or try to knock it down, or break of pieces of the ports so the seed falls out onto the ground (now mulch) underneath.
Step 4) Let the dogs out to scare away the squirrels (which they do, with great vigor).
Step 5) Replace and re-fill the bird feeders that were broken or knocked down by the squirrels.
Step 6) Sit for a few minutes and enjoy watching the birds come to the bird feeders when there are no squirrels on them.
Note: This is ONLY when dogs or humans are out in the yard, sitting quietly – which is almost NEVER!
Step 7) Go inside after a few minutes of bird-watching, because blood-sucking mosquitoes love the water fountain you put out to attract birds and enhance the “zen” of your garden oasis.
Step 8) BRING DOGS BACK INTO HOUSE WITH YOU, or IMMEDIATELY AFTER THEY HAVE CHASED AWAY THE SQUIRRELS. This is the step I or someone else in my home always misses, to my chagrin….left alone in the great outdoors for any length of time without a human watching them closely, dachshunds are going to dig a hole searching for some varmint.
Step 9) Back in the house, read extensively about how to thwart squirrels at bird feeders, and decide what new trick to try tomorrow. Example, the latest I heard is that squirrels don’t like peppermint. Search on the internet for where you can get peppermint….and so on.
Step 1) First thing in the morning, open the door to the back yard (cautiously, so the dogs can’t slip past you), and yell to scare off the 8 squirrels that are either on the bird feeders or on the ground feasting on all the bird seed, before letting the dogs out into the yard. Witnessing a rodent homicide starts the day off on the wrong note.
Step 2) Use reserve earth and mulch to fill holes dug by dogs on the previous day.
Step 3) Repeat Steps 1-9 from Day One.
Step 4) Realize you may have become a bit squirrelly yourself, but resolve to NEVER GIVE UP.
Having dogs and bird feeders will give you hours of enjoyment, boost your happiness and self-esteem, and keep you mentally agile and physically fit. I highly recommend it. Enjoy!
If you’re an avid bird-watcher and want to enjoy the activity AND get some exercise, you may like this article – Fun Low Impact Hobbies & Sports.
*All photographs & text in this article are © 2020 Anita Hamilton. All rights reserved. Do not download or reproduce without written permission. I am not a professional bird watcher, bird feeder, gardener, dog owner, or pest control expert. Always consult a professional and get expert advice for your specific interest/concern.*