I would bet hip-pocket money that at some point in his life General Custer said, “Some of my best friends are Indians.” All my life I have heard racist whites say, “Some of my best friends are black” and I am certain there were Black Panthers who said, “Some of my best friends are white.” It is something we say to get our great big “but” in place. That “but” goes something like this: “Some of my best friends are Indians but I don’t think civilized people could live in those tiny teepees. It is downright unsanitary.”
Here I go today in my annual please-feed-the-birds column saying, “I dislike blackbirds but some of my best friends are red-winged blackbirds.” They nest in marshy areas and around water and now that I live near the lake, I am well blessed with them. It is the first time in my life I have seen them in large numbers in my feeding place.
For one thing, they are pretty. They have a mockingbird-like body and little red patches on their shoulders. You will not find a more beautiful bird in this part of the country.
They are smart. Blackbirds of all kinds are smarter than other birds. Crows can even be taught to speak. I think the redwings are right up there close to crows in avian intelligence.
I have tiny feeders to keep away the blackbirds but the redwings can always find a way to get to the sunflower and safflower seeds. The bird-feeding textbooks may tell you that blackbirds don’t like safflower seeds but the redwings cannot read the textbooks. They have been gobbling up my safflower for decades.
Some readers have asked that I explain my bird-feeding program. It has evolved over the years into a layout designed to keep blackbirds under control. If blackbirds can get to your seed and suet, they will swarm your feeding area and eat you right through the door to the poorhouse.
To dispense seed, I use nothing but small feeders that can only be accessed by clinging birds (chickadees, towhees, woodpeckers, finch and nuthatches). My favorite is the Chickadee Feeder but there are others that hold more seed and achieve the same purpose.
I feed no seeds but sunflower and safflower. Millet, corn and table scraps draw blackbirds.
To attract all the above clinging birds as well as wrens, I put suet and raw peanuts into a cage feeder available at Wild Birds Unlimited on East Brainerd Road. Sometimes blackbirds will be able to cling to the bottom long enough to get a bite or two of suet or a couple of nuts, but it is a chore for them to hang on. So they always move on with little to show for their efforts.
The main reason I bought the cage feeder was to pull in the woodpeckers. I had tried all the “woodpecker feeders” (using the term frivolously) and the starlings got more nuts from them than the woodpeckers. With the wire cage, I now have red-bellied woodpeckers coming in all day. They have to eat from the bottom due to the small openings in the side of the cage. The downy and hairy woodpeckers can ease right through the small vents in the side and I see them coming and going all day. A pleasant surprise has been the regular presence of wrens. These perky little boogers are a delight to watch with their long beaks and upturned tails.
If you only want to do one thing to attract birds, by all means make good clean water available to them. In all seasons drinking water is essential to all birds. I bought a beautiful hanging glass water bowl at Village Market and I prefer it to the ground units. It puts the drinking birds at eye level in my bird-watching area.
If you don’t like redwings, send them to me. Some of my best friends are redwings.
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