Category: Backyard Birding

Attract Birds with a DIY Fountain

GoldfinchApparently, my bird seed experiment went so well that now there is a constant stream of finches lined up at my feeders and I’m going through suet like crazy. The suet cylinders are especially popular so I’m going through one every 5-7 days. Since the birds are going through them so quickly, it’s starting to get hard keeping them in stock and not running to WBU every month.

So, I started searching around the internet and multiple people mention water attracting birds. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, you get a larger variety of birds because all of them drink water but not all eat suet. Also, water is fairly cheap and in easy supply so it would mean a larger variety of birds and fewer trips to the store. So I started looking around.

The Search

The first major requirement was a shallow area where the birds could perch. I wouldn’t want to hang over the deep end of a swimming pool to drink water so I understand why birds don’t want to drink out of deep fountains. They need some place to land so they feel comfortable that they aren’t going to fall into the water.

Bird Baths

So, this naturally lead me directly to bird baths. The problem with these is that you have to fill bird baths all the time and unless you get a water wiggler you get mosquito eggs. I know from previous experience that it’s just too dry in San Diego to be able to keep birth baths full and mosquito-free so I nixed this idea from the start.

Commercial Fountains

Standard Fountains

Traditional Fountain on Houzz.com

Then I moved to the idea of commercially available fountains. The first problem I encountered is that most fountains like this are basically large deep bowls stacked on top of each other with cascading water. The water stream from one bowl to the next is pretty fast and thick, not the right conditions for birds to fly through to bathe. Also, the bowls are so deep that they might not feel comfortable drinking from them. My mom has a traditional wall fountain with two half bowls of water and never gets birds.

Urn Fountains

Mediterranean Landscape by Santa Barbara Landscape Contractors Pacific Green Construction Landscape on Houzz.com

But, there are other fountains. The most colorful being the urn/pot fountains. This type of fountain has a underground reservoir that holds the majority of the water and recirculates it to the top using a pump. The reservoir is covered with rocks so it appears that the water flowing down the sides of the pot disappear into the ground. The effect is quite wonderful, but it causes a few issues:

  1. I live in an area where is the ground is full of rocks and is pretty hard. It would be difficult to dig down the 5 feet required to install one of these reservoirs.
  2. I have a curious and rambunctious little dog that would probably spend his days playing in and drinking from the gross bird water. I don’t want him dragging in mud into the house and I don’t want him to be able to drink from the fountain. That means the fountain bowls need to be high enough that he can’t reach them. This also has the added benefit of him not being able to harass the birds.

So, any sort of urn fountains are out, which is sad because this is my favorite type of fountain.

Bird Specific Fountains

Traditional Outdoor Fountains by Camas Furniture & Accessories Soothing Company on Houzz.com

This means that I need to find a fountain that doesn’t have a bowl within reach of my pooch and doesn’t have deep bowls so the birds will actually sit in it. This eliminates the majority of commercially available fountains I could find. However, there are several companies that make specific bird fountains. They are similar to millstone fountains where the water flows over a flat surface into a bowl underneath. They don’t hold much water, but they are made specifically for birds.

Maybe I’m just getting picky at this point, but why do all of them have to have ceramic birds on them? I don’t want my actual birds fighting for space around fake birds. Also, the colors that these come in are kinda a snooze-fest. I just couldn’t get excited by any of these. They also seem really hard to clean.

What’s a girl to do?

So, I kept an eye out for other fountains that I thought fit the bill better. I just knew that there had to be a better solution out there but I just couldn’t find it. I kept getting disappointed over and over looking at commercially available fountains that I started looking into ones that I could make myself.

The DIY Option

The final product.

The final product.

Most DIY solutions I could find were a variation on the urn/pot method where you take a pot and create a reservoir, which I already knew didn’t work for me. All the options seemed to involve lots of work until I started stumbling across the bamboo spout for pot fountains. You basically take any pot and add this bamboo spout connected to a pump and you have a fountain. Genius.

I found the bamboo fountain spout available at my local nursery and also on Amazon. The height of the spout relates to the diameter of the pot you use. It has a small pump that you place at the bottom of your pot that attaches to a tube that runs down the middle of the bamboo. Just put water in the pot, plug it in, and you’re good to go. Ta Da! Instant fountain.

Since birds don’t like deep water, I added some rocks from my yard to place in the bottom to give the birds something to rest on while taking a bath and drinking. I found that you need to really get flat rocks and place them at a slight angle so no matter how low the water level gets, the birds can walk down to the edge easily.

The Verdict

Initially, the introduction of the fountain freaked out all of the birds in the yard except the hummingbirds and my overall bird count dropped significantly. After a few days, however, the birdies were back at the feeder giving the fountain the stink-eye the whole time. It’s taken the neighborhood birds a week or so, but they are finally starting to use the fountain!

I’ve seen a HUGE spike in the diversity of the birds in my yard. They seem to be attracted to the water. Some just sit on the edges of the yard taking in the scenery, some dive right in. I’m hoping that over time the more hesitant birds will become braver. We’ll see.

Meet Edna

This the newest addition to my yard. This little Anna’s has been fighting off everyone else and spends a lot of his day hanging out in my yard now. You can tell him apart from the rest by the “eyelashes” of red feathers behind his eyes. They are the same on both sides. I’m not sure what to call him, but the first person to pop into my head with huge lashes is Dame Edna so I’ve just been thinking of him as Edna… which also amuses me because of the Edna character in The Incredibles.

Bye bye bird seed

Seed Mess Everywhere!

Birds are messy. They just are. Its been a joy watching the little birds in my backyard hopping around battling for better positioning at my feeders. The problem that I kept running into is that I get so many finches that I would go through an entire medium-sized seed tube feeder a day. At that rate, who can afford the nice no mess pre-shelled seed mixes?

So, I switched to Wild Birds Unlimited‘s Cranberry Seed cylinders to feed my birds. The cylinders are made from normal seed mixes that have been compressed into tubes and held in place with gelatin. The birds have to work at getting each seed pulled out from the rest which is wonderful because 1. they aren’t as likely to grab seed and fly away to eat it 2. they sit in the same place longer so you can get a better view of them 3. they have to vie for position, so they spend more time bickering and less time eating 4. it takes significantly longer for them to eat through the seed.

I was enjoying the cylinders because it resulted in far less mess in my yard since the birds would go through seed slower and that resulted in less shells on the ground.

However.

I still have lots of shells everywhere. Now that our backyard was re-landscaped, the seeds fall into a raised plant bed instead of onto the ground, so it’s harder to clean up. Also because of the time of year, I’m only getting House Finches at the feeders and it would be nice to mix it up a little. So, I’ve been on the hunt for seed alternatives. Here is what I’ve tried:

Bark Butter

Bark Butter Bark butter is a mix of suet and ground nuts. Since it has suet in it, it’s more calorically dense than seeds and it doesn’t have the mess. You can spread it onto tree bark so essentially it makes any tree a bird feeder. Everyone raves about how easy it is and the diversity of birds it gets. Lots of people make it at home, but since I’m new to it I decided to go with WBU’s Bark Butter on their Bark Butter Feeder (because none of our trees are large enough to use).

I was really excited and waited around for them to find it. And waited. And waited.

For some reason, there were never any adventuresome finches that would find their way to the feeder. So I moved it closer to the seed feeder. Still nothing.

My husband came up with the idea of spreading the bark butter directly onto the seeds, forcing the birds to try it. I tried it out as you can see in the picture. It took a couple of days, but eventually the birds ate it up.

Bark butterSuccess!

Now that the birds knew it was tasty, they seemed to find the bark butter feeder with no problem. The image to the right shows a little bird chowing down at the feeder.

All you do is spread the bark butter on with the back of a fork onto the feeder and it get into the little circle grooves. The birds then can eat into it without a problem.

Suet

Suet

In the past, I’ve done traditional suet feeders too without any success. Since I joined WBU’s membership club, I got a free suet feeder so I thought now would be a good time to try it again. So I placed it on the opposite side of the yard.

The saleswoman said to place it where it was a little hidden so the birds would feel more comfortable trying it. She made it sound like this type of feeder made the birds feel more vulnerable, so they needed vegetation for cover. Vines from our neighbor’s yard were growing over the fence into ours, so I placed it on a hook in the middle of that.

Nothing. For weeks!

The vines were starting to drive me crazy, so I went ahead and cut them back since it didn’t seem to be helping anyways… lo and behold, they started eating it. I’m not sure what the saleswoman was thinking, perhaps my finches are just more spunky than normal but they liked it better right out in the open.

In a couple of weeks, the suet was gone.

Fruit/Jelly

circle feederOrioles are currently migrating through San Diego, so I’ve been desperately trying to get some to hang out in my yard. Since they are only here for a couple of months a year I decided instead of investing in an oriole feeder, that I would choose a circle feeder with a little glass cup so I could place fruit and jelly for the orioles and other things in for the rest of the year. I bought it at WBU, but they don’t seem to have it on their website.

So, I tried putting WBU’s grape bird jelly in it. The finches aren’t a fan, but the hummingbirds and bees seem to love it. I stopped putting it out though since I didn’t get any orioles (I didn’t get any with the oranges either). Also some of the bees would get stuck in it. They reminded me of those images of dinosaurs stuck in tar. And it made it feel bad… imagine your last moments spent in sticky delicious goo. Plus, there are enough dead bees in the world. So, I decided to switch to fruit instead.

Since summer means an insane amount of cheap oranges in Southern California, I’ve been putting oranges out sliced in half into the feeder. The birds have been eating it up! The bees seem to also like it, but it hasn’t attracted an insane amount of them or anything. Also, they can’t get trapped in it either so it’s a win-win. I don’t know if fruit will be a viable option all year round, but it’s cheap and plentiful right now.

dragonflyMealworms

I hate bugs.

Ok, so I emotionally promised myself every time I saw mealworms in WBU, that I would never buy them. Bugs are gross. Dead they are gross. Alive they are gross. One of the reasons I love birds is that they eat bugs. The only bugs I like are bugs that eat other bugs. And butterflies… because who doesn’t love them?

The last time I was at a WBU store, there was a woman buying live refrigerated mealworms. Apparently, if you keep them in the fridge, they are so cold that they hibernate… or something. Basically, they are frozen, but still alive. They reminded me of lobsters that you get at the grocery store.

Anyways, this woman keeps these mealworms in her fridge.

I almost died.

Right there in the middle of the store. The shock almost killed me. Then I almost died again once the true horror of this set in.

WHO WANTS BUGS IN THEIR FRIDGE?!? I applaud you if you have the stomach to handle this. Maybe it would be the best diet ever because every time you looked in the fridge you would see a box of wiggling worms. Who could eat after that?!? Barf.

My mom somehow thought it would be a great idea to buy some freeze-dried mealworms. I was not there for this decision. I think by now my reaction would have been obvious. But, she got some to try in her yard. It’s been a couple of weeks and no one has taken the bait. So now she has a whole container of mealworms and nothing to do with them.

So… against my better judgement, I’ve decided to try it out. Now, I know what you are thinking (uh, are you forgetting everything you just said?) but I’m getting a little tired of seeing dozens and dozens of little brown finches and I would love to see anything else in my backyard. So, I’m going to give it a shot and see how it goes. I filled up my little circle feeder with worms and so far no takers. I’ll keep you updated with the progress.