Chickadee feeders go chic

Sunday, November 2, 2003

Let's see, what's on the menu today? Tasty black oil sunflower served in a multi-tube feeder of hand-blown glass? Or sumptuous peanut suet slung from a custom-designed tray of stained wood? Oh, the decisions.

Backyard birds have never had it so good.

But as connoisseurs of avian fare know, food is all about presentation. Homeowners are flocking to designer feeders to lure feathered friends to a veritable smorgasbord of birdie delicacies.

Even finicky birds wont turn up their beaks at feeders with layered cedar plank roofs, triple tubes topped by hammered metal and copper finishes or multilevel trays.

Marybeth Cornwell of Lowe's says bird feeding is more than a flight of fancy. This fastest-growing of outdoor activities brings nature a bit closer to home and is a diversion from a go-go world.

"Bird feeders offer so many things to homeowners," says Cornwell, "the opportunity to attract beautiful wildlife and a chance to watch young birds grow up. With a bird, you feel fortunate every time you see them at your feeder. Plus, feeders are more decorative and scientific than ever."

The twin emphasis is on decorative and scientific. Cornwell and Lowe's asked birding experts at National Geographic to create a line of thoughtfully designed feeders to incorporate the latest in anti-squirrel- and weather-beating technology.

Chief among the innovations is a vent system to allow rainwater to drain and make seed slots accessible to beaks, not clawed marauders. Non-chewable metal and glass are also featured. Feeders for small songbirds have aptly sized perches to discourage jays and crows from muscling aside their tinier cousins.

Cornwell suggests homeowners stock multiple feeders with a variety of seed types to attract local birds or itinerant flocks just passing through. High-energy striped or black sunflower, suet, thistle and seed mixes are standard fare.

Cornwell sounds one note of caution. Because birds are creatures of habit, they may grow reliant on your source of food. Don't stop winter feeding -- birds have higher caloric needs in cold weather.

Food isn't the only attraction for birds. So is adequate protection from predators and water for drinking and bathing. Position feeders at least 8 feet from squirrel launching pads and 5 to 6 feet off the ground to deter predators. Attach baffles to hanging feeders. Birdbaths offer more than a cool drink. Birds bathe to condition feathers. Look into heaters to keep water open during freezing temperatures.

"Cleanliness is a major factor in bird health," says Cornwell. "Communal dining and bathing invites the easy spread of disease. Empty and wash feeders regularly."

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