Making Feathered Friends
Family Bird Feeding
Feeding the birds in our yard is fun. Cleaning up the mess the birds make with spilled seeds is not. If the seed is allowed to lie, it comes up as wild grass, which is hard to pull. Trying to keep the neighborhood cats away from the bird feeders and birdbath is also a challenge. What can we do to maximize the enjoyment of watching the birds while minimizing the work?
Accidental Bird Feeder
I accidentally stumbled across the best bird feeder one year. We had removed a tree and had the stump dug, and my husband filled the hole with my precious compost pile dirt. He was about to spread grass seed on it when I caught him. Rather than see that rich compost dirt go to waste, I planted a dozen sunflower seeds in the hole. We had a small patch of 12-foot sunflowers growing in our front yard that was all the talk of the neighborhood! Once the flowers tipped their heads and the mature seeds were enticing, the bird population in our yard increased tremendously and the neighbors now had something more to enjoy. After some of the seeds were gone, I harvested the rest to toss out into the snow for the winter birds to enjoy. To my great surprise, the patch "volunteered" sunflowers for years to come. While the birds eat, some seeds fall onto the dirt and will come up the next spring. This has been the easiest and most enjoyable "bird feeder" we've ever had. In fact, while we thought we were going to miss the feeder that used to hang in that very tree, we discovered that the patch of sunflowers is even more fun!
Patty Joy, happy wife and mother of four in Minnesota
Bake the Birdseed
We always bake birdseed in the oven on low for an hour or two before feeding the birds. This prevents sprouting completely and does not affect the nutritional value or the edibility of the seed. Prior to learning this trick, we had some awful surprises in the flower garden underneath the bird feeder!
Keep Cats Entertained
We planted plenty of catnip close to the edge of the yard, way off from the feeders. The cats are entranced and provide extra entertainment, and have kept away from the feeders. Pulling seed weeds is inevitable, but if you put the feeders in the middle of a highly-mulched flower bed, the weeds come out with an easy tug.
Block the Weeds
I had leftover landscape weed-block fabric after I laid it around some bushes. I put the leftover pieces under the bird feeders and spread cosmetic mulch on top. The birdseed still sprouts, but it can't force roots through the fabric and pulling the weeds is easy as pie. I used about a 4 X 4 foot square of the fabric, since the birds aren't careful where they toss their unwanted seeds.
Box in the Mess
We also love to feed and watch the birds. To solve the birdseed mess problem, we built a "box" out of landscape timbers big enough to contain the mess. It's easy to clean up and it rarely seeps out into the lawn.
"Pave" under Bird Feeder
You can put down plain paving tiles, bricks or stones meant for outside. I would buy enough to do a 4' x 4' area. Put your feeder offside of the center and put a birdbath on the opposite edge so that it is at least 3' from the feeder. Don't worry about making it perfect. You can even sometimes get gravel, etc. in broken bags at the home center for 50% off!
If you see them breaking up asphalt or concrete, you can ask if you can have it. I have even been able to swap homemade cookies for free delivery. The workmen threw more than I would have dared ask for into someone's truck, brought it to me and unloaded it. I gave each man about two dozen cookies and they seemed happy with the deal they made. In my area, you can sometimes get used railroad ties free for hauling them off, but that is a job for two men and a truck. Those things are heavy!
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