Andrea and Terry Grabill answer your latest avian queries
Whether thistle and the squirrel dilemma
If the "thistle" bird seed is really thistle, will it germinate? Or, is it a possible invasive plant? (I cringe as having to face more thistles or more "invasives" in my pastures.) Salle H.
Salle, your concern is completely understandable! Many of us have done, or are doing, battle with thistle plants in pastures and along roadsides!
The first good news for feeding “thistle” seed to wild birds is that, despite the name, it’s not thistle at all! It’s actually the seed of the African yellow daisy. The thistle name probably started because American goldfinches, which are the most common local bird to use it, will feed on thistle seed in the wild. Originally, it was marketed under the name of niger seed after its country of origin. In 1998, the name NYJER was trademarked by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry, in part to move away from the possibly offensive spelling.
A second piece of good news is that nyjer seed is heat sterilized before it’s marketed to kill any noxious species embryos in the seed before importation! This effectively kills the unwanted passengers and prevents the establishment of invasive species. So, no danger of spilled nyjer germinating!
As you know, nyjer is an excellent, although relatively expensive, attractant for finches such as the previously mentioned American goldfinch. Because of its high fat content, it’s also used by irruptive pine siskins and redpolls.
What can I do about squirrels in my bird feeders?
Ahhh, the bane of bird feeders everywhere! SQUIRRELS! These beautiful little rodents can eat a feeder bare in no time and will chew the feeder to bits to get at the last morsels. They will eat practically anything offered to birds and will not tolerate birds in the feeder with them!
There are several companies that manufacture feeders that they market as “squirrel proof”. Some of these have a mechanical lever that lowers when a squirrel’s weight is added to the perch while others have a wire barrier that allows small songbirds passage and blocks the entry of larger animals.
`Here at BirdGoober headquarters, we have a wire rope (cable) between two trees with a pulley system to lower the feeder for filling. We’ve not had a single squirrel on the feeders suspended in this manner. Many advocate making a “peace offering” of sorts by putting corn on the ground for the squirrels, though, even with spilled grain on the ground, my feeders within the reach of squirrels are still invaded.
Finally, and, I’ve never tried this, bird seed is marketed that’s treated with hot pepper spice. Squirrels, being mammals, have a relatively keen sense of smell and taste and will be put-off by the seasoning. Most birds have very little sense of smell and taste and will not be dissuaded.
We’d be interested in hearing your experiences with humanely battling squirrels at the birdfeeders!
BirdGoober is Terry and Andrea Grabill, of Newaygo. They have been birding together since they met and love to share their passion for birds with people of all ages. Please send your birding questions to the Grabills at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website www.birdgoober.com.
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