When to take down the bird feeder for the season

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It’s been a banner year at the bird feeder with hundreds of house sparrows, a few chickadees, and 2-3 house finches. And even though they ate voraciously during the day, we grew suspicious when the feeder (sometimes newly filled) was empty in the morning. The tracks in the deep snow told the story… it was the deer. 

At first it was just one night, and since it was double digits below zero, who could blame them? But before long, they cleaned out the feeder nearly every evening visiting barely after sunset. Now we bring in the feeder at night so we can continue feeding the birds during the day, but don’t contribute to the deers’ delinquency when the sun goes down. (Beyond encouraging bad behavior, feeding deer increases the risk of disease within the local herd, plus has a tendency to draw in predators so it’s not something you want to do.) This brings me to the question, when should you bring in your feeders for the season? 

If you live in bear country, whether black bears or grizzlies, you should take down your feeders now. Despite the past month of brutal cold and plenty of snow here in Montana, there have been a couple of grizzlies spotted out of their dens on the west side of the mountains, and it won’t be long before other bears emerge from hibernation. It’s the same in the eastern part of the country. Black bears make an early appearance, and if one of their first food sources is bird feed in a residential area, it’s setting the stage for conflict in the future. 

For us, the deer hitting the feeder is enough to cause us to bring it in at night, but it will just be until the landscape changes enough to provide a better food source.  With snow still up to our knees, the birds can’t find much of anything to eat, but it won’t be long until they’ll shift their diet to insects. Most of the songbirds in our backyard rely on the high-protein insect food source, particularly when it’s time to create the nest and raise this season’s brood. Their natural diet is healthier, anyway, so we’ll put away the feeders when the bugs come out. 

In other parts of the country, unwanted visitors such as raccoons and squirrels are a battle throughout the season. There are a number of contraptions to prevent squirrels from taking over the feeder during the day, and to keep the raccoons away at night, the best option is to bring the feeder inside, or only put out the amount the birds will finish during the day. This might seem a little skimpy at times, but it’s better than losing the whole batch to hungry raccoons. Along these lines, it’s equally important to securely lock up your bird seed. If it’s locked in the garage or in the house, it’s fine. But if you keep it outside in a barrel, as a lot of our friends do, make sure the lid is securely fastened or the raccoons will enjoy the whole bag of it.  (This applies to anyone in bear country, too.) 

It has been an enjoyable, and sometimes drama-filled, time watching the bird feeder this year. We love seeing the different birds and the interaction between them, even if somedays it involved a sharp-shinned hawk that used the feeding area as a buffet. At least once a week, an unwitting sparrow was the meal of the day for the raptor. (A bird feeding station is pretty much the same concept as a mountain lion coming in to the deer, except a hawk doesn’t have the same safety concerns for humans as a cat does. Anywhere prey exists, predators follow.) The good thing is as the weather warms and the birds return, our feathered entertainment will only increase as new species arrive. I’m doing my best to create a habitat conducive to encourage a greater variety every year, and look forward on reporting what we see. 

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