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Selectively Feeding The Birds

I am among the many Prairie folks who enjoy feeding winter birds, and it provides a bit of cabin fever relief during the long, cold months.

A favourite is the chickadee. Even on the coldest of mornings chickadees faithfully arrive at the feeders, and their cheerful “Hi sweetie” calls brighten the day.

One species that I came to dislike when cattle ranching was the magpie. They would savagely attack unattended newborn calves on any soft body parts (including eyes), and this same aggressive behaviour comes out at bird feeders when fat has been set out. Magpies crowd out all other species and even lower ranks of their own. For years I’ve tried various methods of foiling them since they won’t just eat what they need, they will totally strip the supply and hide it, leaving little or nothing for anything else including the beloved chickadees.

Through trial and error I devised a plan that meets the goal of feeding chickadees and woodpeckers while locking out magpies. I used to hang out a log drilled with holes, each of which was filled with lard. This worked well until magpies showed up. In a matter of minutes one after the other would load up until the log was an empty shell. Repeated refills did not change anything – only encouraging them to keep hanging around. I tried enclosing the logs in wire cages but they learned to cling to the dividers and reach through the spaces or fly in from the open bottom.

And then by accident I discovered something that helped to discourage them. I had filled the holes as usual, and finding a few ounces of fat left over, smeared this randomly over the outside of the log, somewhat like buttering toast.

Magpies came and went. The holes were licked clean but the wall of the log was untouched. There wasn’t the fat depth needed for a meaningful grip. Chickadees and woodpeckers however, clung to the rough, ribbed walls and cleaned up over a period of days with frustrated magpies taking only empty aerial runs until they were finally persuaded there was nothing to be gained and disappeared.

I no longer fill the log holes and this is working very well.

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