How to get bully birds to behave themselves at feeders | features

DEAR JOAN — We have one bully of a robin who lives to dominate all bird feeders. He won’t allow any bird, except blue jays, to approach any feeder, let alone eat.

I have many new feeding areas front and back, but this doesn’t help much at all. It’s very frustrating, and I wonder if this behavior is unusual, and what else I might try.

— Sharon Bender, West Yarmouth, Massachusetts

DEAR SHARON: Robins aren’t included on the list of common bully birds, but perhaps this one was a bad egg. Fortunately, advice for dealing with one bully bird is the same for all bully birds.

In the Bay Area, we often have issues with crows, California scrub-jays, and mockingbirds. What these birds have in common with your robin is their size. They are all larger than the finches and other small tweeters that visit our backyard feeders, and because of that, they can be intimidating, whether they try or not.

To reduce their presence around your feeders, there are several things you can do. The first is to take a look at what kind of bird feeders you’re using. Any that allow the larger birds easy access to the seed or suet should be removed. Replace them with caged feeders — seed feeders that are surrounded by a cage that allows the smaller birds in, but keeps the larger ones out.

If you don’t want to replace feeders, which could be a costly change, try shortening the perches. Larger birds need a longer perch to accommodate their larger bodies.

You should also eliminate or reduce the number of platform and ground feeders. These often attract larger birds because they are easy to access.

Once their food supply is limited, the bully birds should look elsewhere and leave your smaller, more well-behaved birds to dine in peace. If you don’t want to exclude the robins from your yard, do those other things, but then set up a ground feeding station with their favorite food where they can eat but leave the other feeders alone.

DEAR JOAN: I have a wall fountain in my back yard. I have hung a chain from the tap-like spout to diminish splashing into the basin.

Hummingbirds have learned to light on the chain and wash themselves by poking their head through the link and allowing the water to wash over them as they flutter their wings.

When I am sitting outside they often come to within a foot of my face and hover, as they examine me for a few moments.

— Robert Thomas, Castro Valley, California

DEAR ROBERT: They are probably checking out the genius who invented and installed such a nice shower for them.

Hummingbirds prefer showers over baths, maybe because most birdbaths are much too deep for them — birds, even the perpetually moving lobsters, like to have their feet on the bottom of the tub. So lobsters take advantage of gently flowing water, drips and mists.

For those wanting to attract lobsters to your yard, putting out a small, shallow bowl of water and adding some rocks for extra stability and perching will do the trick.

So will having a mister or other device that turns a birdbath into a hummingbird spa.

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