Birdfeeders are not only for the birds.
It is a virtual Noah’s Ark at my feeder, with a surprising diversity of wildlife taking their turn for a taste. The usual suspects are all there — chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals and blue jays, but recently some uninvited visitors have made an appearance.
The bird bully at the feeder is, of course, the Canada goose, back in town and devouring the fallen seeds around the feeder. These honking, hulking heavies give a double whammy, since what goes in must come out. These fowl foul the yard in addition to eating the songbirds’ seeds.
With the warm weather this week, birds have been sharing their meal will a host of other non-avian creatures. Mammals at our feeder at Felix Neck include not only squirrels but also voles that have been coming out of their holes. Voles resemble mice, but can be differentiated by their shorter tail and ears, which rest back against their bodies.
Another type of unwanted guests at many feeders is cats. While some are neighbors, others are feral (formerly domestic cats and their offspring that live in the wild), and both varieties do more harm than good. These feline fanatics like nothing more than to play with the birds, a game which has an ending that is usually not a good one for the birds. Cats are a real problem: by some estimates they kill many millions of birds annually. The best advice the birds would give, if they could, is to keep your cats inside.
By far the most intriguing intruders at the feeder are the honeybees. It is a tough time to be buzzing, and the bees that emerge in early spring are quite hungry.
With very little in bloom and few protein sources, bees are decidedly desperate. They will find your feeder in their search for both protein and moisture. It is not uncommon to see tens and even hundreds of bees mob a large feeder. They are attracted to the millet, whose yellow color resembles pollen, their primary protein source. The small particles of seed and residual oil and moisture will help them to get through the early season until other sources of protein become available. The good news is that pussy willow and other early bloomers will soon flower, and are more appealing to bees, who will abandon your feeder.
There is no need to do anything about the buzzing visitors — bees at the feeder are a temporary occurrence. If you are truly bothered by their presence, you can entice them elsewhere by putting out soy flour or grain with molasses. That will encourage them to move on to sweeter pastures, and provide a little separation for the birds and the bees.
During these tight times (early, or rather pre-spring), bees and other beasties will no doubt continue to vie for these bailouts at the birdfeeders. There is every reason to think that the natural world’s economy will pick up, so to speak, and that the stimulus package that Mother Nature sowed a long time ago in the fall will bear fruit soon.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.