I Found my Bird Feeder Bliss


For decades in a former garden, my bird-watching consisted of standing on my deck and pointing the trusty binocs at the bird houses in the wooded valley below. I can’t you what birds actually filled them – I’m that bad at bird recognition – but anyway, my favorites were the flying squirrels that lived in the triple-story house shown here.

I would have added some bird feeders to create a closer-up venue for avian entertainment, but my lot was hilly and there was no spot for them that I could see from inside.

What a mess!

Then five years ago, after moving to an on-grade lot, I jumped at the chance to feed and then watch all day if it moved me. In my tiny front yard I hung a couple of feeders, added a bird bath and boy, did the flocks ever arrive. Bird meet-ups ensued.

My neighbors objected to the feeders because the flocks’ favorite meet-up spot was apparently on branches overhanging their cars, so bird poop on them was inevitable.

Another problem was the mess that the feeders created on the ground beneath, a petty concern I actually complained about right here. Excerpt: “I have to sweep the patio almost daily.” Really, who could endure that?

Something else I was doing at least daily was filling the damn things, and the suet cakes were costing me almost 2 bucks a pop.


So….I tried a hummingbird feeder instead, only to discover that I couldn’t handle the commitment of regular cleaning required to protect them from murder-by-feeder on my part. Who needs that kind of stress?

View from my favorite porch chair, through the screen

Just Thistle

My next attempt at bird feeding and watching – the winning one – was to provide thistle only (aka nyger), and to place the feeder just outside my screened-in porch where my cats and I live about half the year. Thistle-only works best in my small garden because:

  • Squirrels ignore them! Sure, I could protect feeders from squirrels if I had enough space to hang them out of reach of these world-class gymnasts, but I don’t.
  • No sprouting of seeds under the feeder, no resulting weedy patch.
  • No flocks! My feeder attracts 1-4 small birds at a time, usually goldfinches. So pretty, so watchable.
  • There’s still a bit of maintenance, but even following the best advice, it just amounts to shaking the feeder daily to prevent clumping and mold, and replacing the seed every 3-4 weeks if it’s not being actively eaten, which has yet to happen at mine. On the anti-mold front, I do buy the smallest bag I can find and keep it in the fridge. No biggie.


Just when you thought I was omitting the very best ways to attract birds – with plants and water – not to worry. I’ll always have purple coneflowers and leave ’em up ’til they’re crushed under snow. A water feature, however, will have to wait until my next garden – as if. We do what we can, right?

At Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Virginia



  1. I can’t be depended on to wash a hummingbird feeder either, but I planted native honeysuckle and Salvia, and they flock to both! The finches love the cone flowers and Verbena as well. I miss seeing the nuthatches and woodpeckers, so I need to shell out for some more suet (stupid squirrels may currently be distracted by the black walnut feast).

    • I know Marcia about cleaning the feeders! It took me quite a few youtube video’s to get it right. Sigh. And Susan. I love everything about this article. But bird food is pricey, I get mine at Niagara Produce (I think you’re local) but oh, another sigh, I think I do spend about 50 bucks a week filling the dang things!!! The funny part is, my husband used to flip out and since became a bird man and is now up at 6 a.m. filling them. And I won’t even get into his latest sickness “cat love”

  2. …”I could protect feeders from squirrels if I had enough space to hang them out of reach of these world-class gymnasts, but I don’t.”

    I have space. I have height (in trees). I’ve tried myriad defenses. You can’t protect feeders from squirrels. I switched to safflower seed and cayenne-infused seed blends/suet cakes.

  3. Regarding the suet feeder, I buy only the pure suet, not the kinds embedded with seeds, fruits, or bugs. The squirrels rarely bother with it, but the woodpeckers (especially) love it.

    I buy only hulled nuts and seeds at ANS, with member discount, so there is nothing to pile up under the feeders. The ground-feeding birds (and squirrels) quickly grab anything that falls from the feeders, so there is nothing sprouting there, either. In a typical winter, I count 15-20 different bird species partaking of my offerings.

  4. The trick with the hummingbird feeder is to get one that can go in the dishwasher. Also, making up nectar is simple in the microwave. Heat water to boiling, stir in appropriate amount of sugar until dissolved, and let cool.

  5. I was amazed at the video of the “goldfinches” at a thistle feeder. Those look nothing like our American Goldfinches. I went to the YouTube site with that video and saw that they are European goldfinches.

  6. If you can put a bird bath heater in one of your birdbaths. I have birds all winter just for the water as I don’t put out food. Of course I’m in upstate NY and perhaps you never have to worry about the water freezing.

  7. If you feed finches , especially this time of year, the feeders really should be cleaned as often as possible. Many house and gold finches get mycoplasma gallisepticum infections (look at their eyes) and pass it on to the other finches at the feeders. They will die from it after passing it on. BUT, it can be treated. Two years ago, I grabbed, treated (3 full weeks of treatment) and released 23 finches. Last year 5. So far this year, I have 5 being treated and more are coming. Treatment is easy. I’m also seeing what is, most likely, salmonella infection as indicated by neurological symptoms. These birds are euthanized. I wash my tube feeders twice/week and thoroughly wipe the ports daily with a low concentration bleach solution or 70% alcohol. It takes little time to do this. I also make sure the area under the feeders is easy to sweep and is hosed down weekly to prevent salmonella. STILL, the birds get infected by wiping their faces on branches or the feeder ports or port guards, and touching each other. OR, your neighbors don’t clean. You can easily spot sick birds and grab them with practice. I watch my feeders with binoculars, approach very slowly, then grab. It gets very easy with practice and you prevent big infestations. Feeders can do a lot of harm to finches when neglected. So, read up on finch disease and treatment if you feed finches. They will get it, but you can help them.

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