I put The List together at the beginning of December 2015, so I was excited to receive the Christmas gift a few weeks later of a bird feeder from my cousins Frankie, Denise, & Nathan. I thought it would make for an interesting addition to my “feed wild birds” experience. It is an unusual feeder in the shape of a little house. It has open circular grooves in flat wood that can be filled from an accompanying tub of “Birdacious Bark Butter”.
I read the instructions. I was surprised to learn that I could spread the bark butter directly on the tree if I wanted to, but it did say that it might leave an oily mark on the tree. I opted to use the little house feeder as intended. The directions recommended using the back of a fork for spreading butter all over the surface, but that sounded irresponsibly messy to me.
Instead I got out my handy bench scraper and spread the butter thinly across the divots in the house, leaving perfectly filled circles.
I congratulated myself on the neatness of the job and marveled at how useful kitchen tools can be in life outside the kitchen. I remembered that I had once heroically scooped a drowning animal from my swimming pool with a chinois (a fancy French strainer). I had dried the little beast with a washcloth and held it against my body until it warmed up. I then placed the animal gently under a bush to rest from its ordeal and I took its picture. As I took the camera inside and pored over a field guide to identify it, the gopher recovered and returned with life affirming earnestness to dig holes into the greater part of my pre-drought lawn.
I was hoping for better results this time.
I hung the feeder up and sat poised with my camera inside the patio door. In years past, when I would hang a bird feeder in the carrotwood tree, I would hear a faraway bird sounding the news. For the next few moments, I could hear all the birds from various trees discussing the headlines: “What’s that?” “A new feeder?” “Anything interesting?” “Me first!”
Within moments, there would be twenty birds fighting over the perches on the feeder and spreading shells all over the lawn.
This was not like that.
This time I waited. And waited. And waited. Not only did birds not come, but several days passed and they still had no interest in the feeder. They had even less interest in helping me to keep the daily goals of The List intact.
I decided it was time to visit an expert. I drove to Thousand Oaks where there is a Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop and found a friendly saleswoman, Beth Ann, to help me.
It turns out, I was doing several things wrong. First, the birds were unimpressed with my neat, bench scraper smoothed circles. Apparently, from up high, birds could not see anything there to eat since it just looked like one flat surface to them. Next, there was not enough butter on the other parts of the feeder either. Beth Ann suggested that I make big lumpy mounds of butter on the feeder and then poke in black oil sunflower seeds so that the birds might see them as they swooped from tree to tree. She suggested I might also place the feeder on a branch where it would be more visible to birds.
I decided it was time for a more calculated effort. I wrote down Beth Ann’s advice. I also bought birdseed to fill my old cylinder feeder. I thought that if I had a few feeding options, I could hedge my bets.
I told Beth Ann that squirrels are a bit of an issue at my house and they don’t seem to know when to push away from the table. They are driven and inexhaustible gluttons. Beth Ann then proceeded to tell me that birds have a “dry mouth” and are not bothered by spicy foods. She said that if I mix my birdseed with habanero chile oil, it would repel the squirrels and not bother the birds. I looked at the bottle of Cole’s Flaming Squirrel seed sauce, complete with a cartoon drawing of a squirrel with fire shooting out of it’s mouth and ears, and decided to give it a try.
I also bought ten pounds of a “premium” mix that apparently birds find “highly appealing” because the shells have been removed and they only have to halfheartedly gobble it up. They are spared the business of so much pesky shell cracking. The mix is also less messy for homeowners, because there is no debris left behind. I thought I might need a heartier mix for the type A birds, so I brought that to the counter as well.
Beth Ann gifted me a little bag of black oil sunflower seeds, and packed up my 30 pounds of birdseed and oil and sent me on my way. I had just spent more money on food for birds than I had on dinner for children.
As I pulled in to the driveway, my son was waving at me and grinning. He said, “Look what I’ve got?” He happily emerged from behind his car door with a big bag of seed he had purchased at the hardware store for me. As he handed me the receipt for reimbursement, I thought, this is going to be like a Hitchcock movie.
But as it happens, it was not.
I filled the cylindrical bird feeder with seed. I mounded messy little tufts of bark butter on the house feeder and poked seeds into it. I grabbed my camera and waited. And waited. Then I thought, perhaps it would be a good idea to put a paper plate of birdseed on the ground, in case there were larger birds that wanted to start the party.
I waited for a few hours and as the last bit of sun began sinking behind the hillside, a single bird appeared. It hopped onto the patio and pecked from another little pile of seed I had desperately placed when the clock struck five. I took one murky photo and that was the last I saw of any bird near the feeder.
To be fair, I forgot to mix the seed with the habanero oil before I put it in the feeder so I did a lazy job of spritzing oil around the seeds. I should mention that if you use this product you should be a tidier person than myself and wash your hands more than a few times afterwards. I spent the evening repeatedly rubbing bits of chile oil into my eyes and mouth. Some even mysteriously emerged from my forehead. It must work well when used correctly, because as I was flushing my eyes with cool water, I realized I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in eating any birdseed.
So, for this list item, I am going to give myself an A for effort. I have emerged without feeding more than a bird or two, but I have produced some very fat Scoville scoffing squirrels. I will give you an update if things turn around. As for the bark butter house, which Beth Ann assures me can be quite successful, I must report that all of the black oil sunflower seeds have disappeared, but the messy mounds remain intact.
If I post a captionless photo of a birdfeeder covered in chirping birds sometime in the near future, you will know that things worked out for the best. If I post a picture of squirrels with a salt shaker in one paw and a wedge of lime in the other, you’ll know that I’d rather not discuss the matter further.
340 days to go!