Bird Feeding – Method Of Putting Out Food

On Tree-trunks. — There is a great variety of ways in which the food may be put out, depending upon the kind of food and the habits of the bird it is desired to attract. Pieces of suet may simply be nailed to tree-trunks, but as this is easily broken off and lost, it is better to wind a string around it, or place a piece of poultry-wire netting over it. This holds it in place much better and does not interfere with the birds in obtaining it. To the suet thus placed may come the trunk-climbing birds, such as the woodpeckers, nuthatches, brown creepers, and chickadees.

Ground. — To supply seed-eating birds, a bit of ground may be swept clear of the snow, and chaff, crumbs, and the various kinds of grains and other seeds scattered here. To this may come such birds as the sparrow, junco, snow bunting, blue jay, and quail. This food may be protected as shown in the illustration. A large brush-heap covered well with evergreen boughs, with grain thrown under it, does very well.

Tree-shelf. —The plans so far mentioned are very simple and require very little preparation; but it is well worth while to take the little trouble necessary to prepare a special kind of lunch-counter where the birds may be assembled and studied more closely. In its simplest form this may consist of a board attached to a tree, with a narrow strip around the edge to prevent the food from being blown off. Small holes should be bored in this to allow the water to drain out. This may be placed at first at a little distance till the birds become accustomed to coming to it, and then brought gradually nearer the house.

Window Shelf. — The shelf may be placed at a window, and many birds will become so tame that they will feed here even when a person is sitting by the window inside. This shelf should be wide, so as to allow room for a number of birds to dine at once. If covered with burlap, the small seeds and crumbs will blow away less easily. It would doubtless be worth while to arrange some kind of awning or roof over this to keep off the snow, so that the birds might be able to find-food during ‘the storms. The combination of food and shelter would evidently offer a stronger inducement to the birds than food alone. An interesting device is to attach a small tree to the shelf. On the branches suet, bones, etc., may be fastened, While any kind of food may be placed on the shelf.

This arrangement has been used by Mr. Forbush with great success.

Box. – An open box with a strip across the lower side of the opening may be placed on a tree with the back toward the stormy winds. Food may be kept in this box, which will also serve as a shelter.

Cocoanut. — Dr. A. K. Fisher writes of a cocoanut placed in one of the trees near his camp on the banks of the Potomac : “The cavity of the cocoanut is filled with fresh pork and the fresh kernels of the black walnut. Chickadees, tufted titmice, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, juncos, and possibly one or two more species, take their meals at this restaurant during the winter.”

Suet-box. — If suet is placed out loose without protection, it is often wasted by the blue jay and other larger birds.

The description of the following ingenious device for preventing the waste is taken from the account of Mrs. Rebecca H. Kauffman in the Illinois ” Arbor and Bird-Day Manual ” for 1908 :

“To remedy this waste of suet, the other members of my family assisted me in devising a suet box. It is made of half-inch pine, 9 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 3 inches high. The lid is hinged on with leather and fastened down with a leather strip in which a slit is cut fitting over a small staple driven in the box. The lid is sawed out, leaving about three quarters of an inch around its outside edge. Into this edge all around, about a half-inch apart, are driven brads an inch long. On these brads from side to opposite side, first across the length and then across the width, cord is stretched. The common cord of the grocer will do, but stronger will last longer. The birds sit anywhere on the box and eat through the interstices made by the cross-cords. A new bird is a little shy in its first visits, but after that shows no hesitancy in eating all it wants. The box is nailed to a six-inch-wide board, and that to a stout strip spiked to the trunk of a tree, near a limb, so that the birds may have a place to wait while another visitor is satisfying its hunger.

” I leave suet in the box all the summer. The Baltimore oriole likes it greatly and likes to swing on a bit if it gets loose on a string. The birds come to eat it while nesting, even the robin, and sometimes bring their young to feed them on it, stuffing a morsel down the throat, of their fluffy offspring.”

Moving Shelf.— On the whole the most satisfactory plan which the author has tried is a shelf moving on a wire. The details of this have been worked out very ingeniously by Master Edward Uehling, who, at the time this work was done, was a boy in the eighth grade of school. The author was closely associated with him in this work and tried a similar device at his own home. Some of the most successful results of which the author has known in this latitude resulted from this plan as worked out by his friend during the winter of 1906 and 1907. A wire was put up, sloping from a second-story window to a tree about forty feet distant. On this wire, by means of two pulleys set in a frame, was suspended the lunch-counter partly covered with bark. In one corner was placed a dish for holding water. To this frame a string was attached and run to the window. The slope of the wire carried the counter toward the tree, so that it could be kept in any desired position along the wire. On this were placed suet, nuts, sunflower-seeds, and other foods. At first this was allowed to remain out at full length of the wire, touching the tree. Tree-climbing birds soon found this and came regularly to feed from it. After the birds had become accustomed to coming to the counter in this position, it was drawn up a little nearer each day, till at the end of about a month it had been pulled to the window. Those birds which at first came to it continued to do so even when it was brought up near enough to touch the window. A shelf had meanwhile been fastened to the window, and henceforth most of the food was placed on this, although some food was kept on the ground and on a distant shelf for those birds which would not come to the window. By Christmas-time the chickadees had become so tame as to feed from the hand. On one corner of the window shelf was fastened an apple-tree limb to which suet was nailed. To this the tree-climbing birds came at once. The sides of the moving counter were covered with bark and several partitions were made of bark. This helped give it a natural appearance and also furnished a better means of support to which the tree-climbing birds could cling. The following winter a roof was placed over the trough, which partially pre-vented the food from being covered over by snow during storms.

Advantages of the Moving Counter.—A moving lunch-counter has several advantages. It is easy to pull in the counter and replace the food, especially during and just after a storm; it furnishes an opportunity of gradually accustoming the birds to the nearness of buildings and people, till they may feed at the window, where their habits may be studied at close range. It furnishes complete protection from the attacks of the crafty cat, and a partial protection from the sparrows, which avoid it unless they are very hungry.

During the winter seven species of birds fed from the counter at the window-sill : the chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, brown creeper, blue jay, hermit thrush, and myrtle warbler. Photographs were secured of all these species.

As an illustration of what happened at these lunch-counters under favorable conditions, may be given the following account of a day with the birds, in which the author and Master Uehling kept watch from before sunrise till after sunset, recording the kinds of birds coming for food, the kinds of food taken, and the counter from which the food was taken. The day (February 9) was cold and clear, and the snow deep. Three kinds of food were used : suet, sunflower-seeds, and bread-crumbs. They were put in four places : bread-crumbs on the ground, suet and bread-crumbs on a shelf attached to a tree about fifteen feet from the house, suet and sunflower-seeds on a shelf at the window, and on the moving counter, which was drawn up close to it. Observations lasted from 6 A. M. to 5 p. M. The first bird came at 6.42, and the last at 4.33, making an interval of about 10 hours.

The number of different individuals of each species was estimated to be approximately as follows : 1 hermit thrush, 1 or 2 creepers, 2 or 3 woodpeckers, 4 to 6 nuthatches, 6 blue jays, 10 to 12 chickadees, 20 juncos.

Shelter. – Provision should also be made for a winter shelter. The necessity for this is especially emphasized, particularly in the northern tier of states where the winters are severe. These shelters may prove especially welcome during storms, but may also be used as a roosting-place during the cold winter nights.

Mrs. Wright writes in ” Bird-Lore ” : ” As an experiment I have tried utilizing boxes, the size that holds one hundred pounds of laundry soap. On the front of the box a rough hood is fastened, with a drop equal to half the height of the box, and perches are placed across, three fourths of the way up, with pegs like stairs placed at intervals from the bottom upward. These boxes were placed in sheltered places, under the eaves of low buildings. . . .

” The first season they were unoccupied, but for two years, feathers and droppings show how well they have been appreciated by birds of many kinds and sizes, and this season I am thatching two of them with straw to make the shelter more snug and attractive.”

Houses which are intended for nesting may serve as places of shelter if put out in the fall, and may possibly be the means of inducing some birds to remain and nest in them.

Some kinds prefer the shelter furnished by a tangle of vines and bushes, and if there are none of these on the place, piles of brush or corn-stalks may serve as a shelter.

Experiments in Germany

Baron von Berlepsch, who has experimented for eleven years in Germany, says that three conditions are necessary for effective feeding of win-ter birds. ” The sensible and effective method of feeding birds must (1) be readily accepted by those for whom it is intended ; (2) be carried out in all weathers : that is to say, the food must always be accessible to all birds, especially in the sudden changes of the weather, blizzards, winds, rain, and frost, and must always be in the best condition ; (3) it must be comparatively cheap : that is, the money spent on the food must really – serve its purpose. The food must not be wasted or spoiled, but must be used by the birds to the last crumb.”

Perhaps the chief lesson which we in America have to learn from this experiment in Germany is to make more adequate provision for protecting the food put out, instead of allowing it to be open and exposed to all kinds of weather.

Four devices for feeding birds have been used by Baron von Berlepsch : the “food-tree,” “food-stick,” ” food-house,” and ” food-bell.”

Food-tree. — The food-tree consists of a coniferous tree on whose branches a mixture of hot liquid food is poured, which hardens as it cools. The chief constituents of this mixture are suet, hemp, white bread (dried and ground), meat, millet; the first two being the most important. Small quantities of other materials may be added, such as poppy-flour, oats, dried elder-berries, sunflower-seeds, and ants’ eggs. The quantity of suet used is about one and a half times that of the total dry food. The suet is melted, and the other ingredients stirred in with it. While this mixture is boiling it is poured on the leaves and branches of the evergreen tree, the aim being to imitate a twig covered with insects’ eggs and larva.

Food-house. — The food-house is a device which might well be adopted in this country. The main points of its construction are shown in the cut. This may serve as a shelter as well as a food-station. There is a narrow strip of glass just under the roof on three sides. The purpose of the glass is to protect the food and throw light on the table, whose upper edge is on a level with the support which holds the glass. The purpose of the lower table is simply to attract the birds till they have discovered the upper table, on which the food is kept after the birds once begin to come.

The dimensions of the food-house, as manufactured in Germany, and which experience has proved to be the best, are : width from post to post, four feet and three inches; height from ground to glass strip and upper edge of food-table, four feet seven inches ; width of upper food-table, two feet ; the space between the foodtable and the glass strip, fourteen inches. This house will present a more natural appearance if several evergreen trees are placed near it. If some of the branches project under the house they may serve as sleeping-places.

Food-bell. — The dimensions of the food-bell shown in the cut are as follows : food-dish at bottom, diameter two and a quarter inches, depth half an inch ; tube, width one and a quarter inches; food-receptacle, contents three and a half pints; and the metal bell, diameter one foot. The lower edge of the tube should be one sixteenth inch below the upper edge of the food-dish, and the upper edge of the dish one sixteenth inch higher than the edge of the bell. This works automatically as long as there are any seeds in the receptacle, which is made of glass, thus allowing its contents to be easily watched. It is filled by means of a lid which unscrews from the top. It is recommended that only hemp-seed be used in this, which Baron von Berlepsch considers is one of the best foods for seed-eating birds. In order first to attract the attention of the birds to this, two small nets filled with nuts or other food are hung from the inside of the bell, one projecting below the bell and one hanging just above the food-dish. One especially valuable feature about this is that it is generally avoided by sparrows.


The same two difficulties confront us here as in providing nesting-houses, the cat and the English sparrow. The birds may be easily protected from cats, by wrapping a piece of tin or zinc around the tree below the food ; by putting the window-shelf at a second-story window; or by suspending the counter from a wire as explained on page 94.

English Sparrow. — The sparrow problem, however, is not so easily solved. In one way the difficulty is not so acute as with the nesting-houses, where two birds cannot occupy the same apartment ; for it is possible to furnish food for both the sparrows and other birds, but as a mat-ter of fact experience shows that, where the sparrows congregate in large flocks, as is their custom, the other birds keep away.

Suet on Branches. — A simple and somewhat effective device for keeping the sparrows away from suet is to fasten it on the under side of a limb, so large that the sparrows cannot stand on the upper side and reach it. If the limb does not slope more than forty-five degrees from the vertical, the tree-climbing birds will have little trouble in getting at it, while the sparrows will be quite nonplussed.

Moving Counter. — For other kinds of birds, some kind of moving counter seems to offer the best protection. Three winters ago the author’s yard was so monopolized with a flock of English sparrows, that practically no other birds came to the food kept out. About the middle of the winter a lunch-counter was attached to a wire and suspended from a tree. The result was immediate and gratifying. The sparrows left at once and were hardly seen around again during the winter, while several of our native birds came freely to it. The author rejoiced, thinking that at last he had solved the sparrow problem ; but the experiences of the following winter showed that no such simple device would long outwit such a crafty pest as the sparrow. By this time the sparrows had become accustomed to it and came quite freely to it. On another side of the house a counter was suspended from a wire running from a tree to a second-story window. About halfway between these two was placed a stationary counter; the author thought that, by supplying the spar-rows with sufficient food at this counter, they might be tempted to leave the moving counters alone and allow the other birds to come to them. This surmise, however, proved only partly correct; for while the sparrows would eat from the stationary counter, in preference to the others, they would eat and waste such an enormous quantity of food, that even if the counter were heaped up with food in the morning, in a few hours it would be all gone, and then they would turn their attention to the other counters.

But during the first part of the season they did not often come in large numbers to the counter suspended from the wire. This was hung on only a single pulley, so that it was easily moved, being in almost constant motion; and when the wind blew strongly, the motion was accompanied by a creaking of the wire. When this was out at some distance from the house, a few sparrows came to it, but as it was brought nearer it was less frequented by them during the first part of the winter ; but when the heavy snows covered most of their ordinary supply of food, they came in large numbers to both moving counter and window.

Even to the stationary counter some of our more common native birds came quite regularly, but not often when the sparrows were there, although occasionally sparrows and other birds were seen feeding together.

Several observers have reported that the following kind of shelf is visited by our native birds, but not by the sparrows: A board is hinged to the window-sill and from the outer edge a string is run to the top of the window with a light spring between. Other observers have reported that the sparrows use it, and such has been the author’s experience. Thus, while the moving ‘counter is not entirely successful, it seems to offer a partial solution of the difficulty.

Trapping the Sparrows. — But probably the only permanent solution lies in destroying the sparrows, by trapping, poisoning, or shooting. Mrs. Bonner reports in ” Bird-Lore” that the following device for trapping has proved very successful. A large wire rat-trap was secured, the kind that has the funnel-shaped entrance, the small end of the funnel pointing inward. On the floor of the trap were sprinkled grain or crumbs or any suitable bird-food, and a little more was sprinkled on the ground leading to the trap. In this the sparrows were caught and then drowned.

Under a later date Mrs. Bonner writes that this method can be used successfully only at intervals, as the birds soon ” catch on.”

In a recent Farmers’ Bulletin is given the following suggestion : To trap the sparrows a large shallow box is made open on one side and covered on the other with woven netting. The dimensions may be about 4 feet square and 6 inches deep. On a board a little larger than the box is placed grain to serve as a bait. Over this is placed the box tipped up on one edge and held up by a stick 18 inches long, to the upper end of which is attached a long string. The birds are fed here till they become accustomed to it and then are trapped by pulling out the support by means of the string. Through a small trap-door in the floor the sparrows may be allowed to fall into a pail containing sufficient water to drown them. In place of the box, some heavy object may be used, such as an old door, to serve as a deadfall.

Poisoning the Sparrows. — During the winter the sparrows may be poisoned, if care is taken to see that no other birds eat the poisoned food. That they can be kept in check by systematic poisoning is shown by the experience of Mr. Frank Bond, while a resident of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Each winter a regular campaign was waged and the numbers of the sparrows were so reduced that they did not interfere with the breeding of the native birds, which increased greatly in numbers with the growth of trees and parks. At the close of the winter’s work there were never left more than thirty or forty sparrows, and some-times even fewer. Mr. Bond has kindly contributed the following note regarding his experiences :

” I used whole wheat, well poisoned, as follows : Take one dram of strychnine crystals (usually sold in one-dram bottles) and thoroughly dissolve in one quart of water by boiling, using boiling water to begin with. A much more expeditious way would be to first dissolve the strychnine in an ounce or two of boiling vinegar, then add to the boiling water and boil well. Then add the wheat, enough to have the same just covered by the ‘hell-broth,’ set away until the water is entirely absorbed. The wheat will swell greatly. Then take out and dry carefully. I put the grain into a large dripping-pan, preparing several quarts at a time, and put into a warm oven stir-ring constantly to prevent scorching until perfectly dry. The grain will return to normal size and color, and one grain will kill an English sparrow in three minutes, often before it gets even into the crop.

I scattered this grain sparingly where the birds fed, about stables where there were no chickens or pigeons, and especially about the grain-cars in the railroad yards which continually leaked wheat, oats, etc. On days, especially early mornings, after a fresh fall of snow I gathered in the little pests by the hundred.

“Of course I was authorized by the city government to carry on this work as I wished, but in the larger cities difficulty will be experienced in getting permission to use the poisoned grain. I believe, however, that care in its distribution would render its use in the large cities perfectly harmless to every bird, except the English spar-row, because the well-known habit of the species suggests the method. Every person who sees the sparrow at all, sees it at work upon the scattered piles of excrement distributed everywhere by the horse, sorting out and devouring with great relish the undigested grain, chiefly oats. A thimbleful of poisoned wheat dropped upon each small manure-pile in both the business and suburban sections, during the winter when forage is scarce, would probably in the large cities like Washing-ton, kill from five to twenty birds. In studying the matter here, I am sanguine that with a few careful men to help, at least 90 per cent of the pests in this city could be killed within a month and at the rate of somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000 per day, until their numbers became greatly reduced. But, alas ! we are not allowed to use the grain, and there is no other way.

” I left Cheyenne six years ago, and I under-stand no one has carried on the work I handled alone for many years, and the sparrows have be-come a nuisance there as elsewhere. But while the English sparrows were killed off, the mountain bluebird and the house finch were among the most common bird-box occupants.”

In Worcester, Massachusetts, Dr. Hodge has been able to keep the number of sparrows reduced during the winter, by using poisoned wheat.

The following directions are taken from his “Nature Study and Life”: “My own formula is as follows: Dissolve one eighth of an ounce of powdered strychnine sulphate in one half pint of boiling water. Pour this while hot over two quarts of wheat (or cracked corn), stir well, and continue stirring, from time to time, till the liquid is absorbed. Dry thoroughly, without scorching, and put away in some safe receptacle, labeled, ‘ Poisoned Grain, Strychnine.

“It requires but one kernel to kill a sparrow. A quart of wheat contains about 23,000 kernels, and the sparrows seldom take more than two or three. Expose the grain where poultry and tame pigeons cannot get it, and by operating only during the winter there will be no danger of poisoning seed-eating wild birds, at least for all Northern towns and cities. By taking advantage of the sparrow’s gregarious habits and the fact that they drive off other birds from localities where they are numerous, much might be done even in the South.

” Sparrows are such suspicious and cunning birds, that, if the strychninized grain be exposed at first, they will probably roll each kernel in their bills, taste it, reject it, and possibly refuse to touch it again that winter. The best way is to select a place where the wind is not likely to scat-ter it away, a walk, a driveway, or porch-roof with a smooth surface, so that the grain may be swept up after each trial. Accustom them to feeding there daily with grain exactly like that which is medicated (I often do this for a week, or even a month, until all the sparrows in the neighborhood are wont to come regularly), study the times when they come for their meals, and then on a cold, dry morning after a heavy snow-storm, having swept up all the good grain the morning before, wait until they have gathered, and then put down enough strychninized grain to feed the whole flock. You have about ten minutes before any begin to drop, and those that have not partaken of the grain by this time will probably be frightened off ; but by timing it properly I have repeatedly caught every spar-row in the flock. I have found morning the best time, as they all come then; and it is essential to success to select a dry day, since in wet weather they taste the strychnine too easily ; I have seen them actually throw it out of the crop.

With this simple method at command, by concerted action a few friends of our native birds can rid any Northern city of the sparrow-pest in a single winter. This is no more than parents ought to do for the sake of the native birds, and if not for their sake, at least to clear the way for the children to do effective work in their behalf.”

In a Farmers’ Bulletin on ” How to Destroy the English Sparrow,” an even stronger solution of poison is recommended: “Put one eighth ounce of strychnia sulphate into three fourths of a gill of hot water and boil until dissolved. Moisten 1i teaspoonfuls of starch with a few drops of cold water, add it to the poison solution, and heat till the starch thickens. Pour the hot poisoned starch solution over 1 quart of wheat and stir till every kernel is coated. Small-kerneled wheat sold as poultry-food is preferable to first quality grain, being cheaper and more easily eaten by the spar-rows.”

Feeding the Shy Birds.— The directions given so far provide for the feeding of birds which may be attracted around our homes, but those which remain at a distance are just as much in need of protection. But while the first method of attracting birds may be carried on by an individual, in order that the second method may be at all effective it is necessary that there shall be cooperation of a large number of people.

Organization. — The following method of organization, as reported in ” Bird-Lore ” by E. H. Baynes, has been successfully used in several towns. A meeting is called by some enthusiasts for those interested in this line of work, effort being made to interest the school-children and those engaged in school work. At this meeting the need of feeding the birds should be explained and then committees appointed to look after the various details. One committee may look after the matter of securing food by direct contributions of food, or money to buy it, in which feature of the work the school-children may prove a great help. Another committee may be appointed to find volunteers to distribute the food. Boys from the upper grades or high school may prove good helpers. After the first heavy snowstorm the volunteers meet and divide into squads and assign the territory to be covered by each. Besides the grain and suet to be used for food, there will be need of snow-shovels and string. In localities selected for feeding-places the snow is cleared from spaces 10 to 20 feet square and the grain scattered here. The suet is tied to the branches of trees and the string is wound around it several times. In this way a number of feeding-stations may be established and kept supplied with food. The best feeding-places may be found in the open fields where they will be easily seen. After every storm the snow should be cleared from these stations and a new store of food provided. And it may be necessary to distribute a fresh supply between the storms in case these are separated by more than a week.