More than 20 years ago when we lived in Chatham, N.J., the overhang on our breezeway provided the perfect location to hang 10 bird feeders during the winter months.
Our three young children and I could watch the wild birds native to the Garden State feed on cracked corn, sunflower seeds and thistle right outside our kitchen window. We kept track of our visitors with notes in our handy Peterson Field Guide to the Birds.
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Stocked with a variety of seeds to attract different wild birds, every feeder was squirrel proof. We enjoyed many hours of entertainment as the squirrels tried to figure out how to use the feeders where the tiny wild birds easily found a little needed nourishment when it was difficult to find insects and berries naturally.
(Note: White bread crumbs or corn chips are not considered nutritious foods for any bird or waterfowl.)
The simplest of our feeders was a take off of the popular "tube feeder" that we made ourselves. Tube feeders hold thistle seeds that attract junkos, finches and mourning doves.
Back when I was a Cub Scout den leader, the young boys created the easy-to-make bird feeders as a seasonal project to help earn one of their merit badges. Even these days I occasionally put one together to hang in our crabapple tree or to give as a gift that I know someone already won't have.
This time of year especially, native wild birds can use a little assistance with their diet of weed seeds -- and remember fresh water, too.
Each feeder requires a plastic bottle with a screw-on top from the recycling bin, along with a 12-inch wooden dowel. A length of colorful ribbon or fabric is optional; however, because birds are attracted to color and not smell, we usually used a little red ribbon to spruce up the detail.
Here's what you will need to make a homemade tube bird feeder for less than one dollar each in less than one hour:
1. Plastic pop or water bottle with its cap, any size up to 2 liters. Rinsed and dry inside.
2. A 36-inch length of -round wooden dowel. (Find dowels at craft centers or hardware stores for less than $1 each.) Cut each dowel into three lengths for three bird perches.
3. Colorful ribbon or a narrow strip of fabric.
4. String or twine to tie the feeder in the tree.
5. Thistle seed from your favorite pet or feed store. A three-pound bag costs about $6.
Here's what you do:
1. Using a pencil sharpener, sharpen one end of a 12-inch dowel.
2. Carefully puncture two small holes near the bottom of the pop bottle for the dowel.
3. Using the sharpened side, push the dowel through the puncture from the outside through the pop bottle and through the other side to create a perch for the bird on both sides.
4. Use a funnel to fill the pop bottle with thistle seeds. Shake for the seeds to settle. Add more seeds. Shake again. When full and packed, screw on the cap.
5. Use a very thin-bladed paring knife to carefully cut small V shapes about 2 to 3 inches above the dowel perch.
6. Top with ribbon.
7. Add twine to hang.
8. Find a tree outside your window and hang the bird feeder.
Since February is National Wild Bird Feeding Month, the other day I put together another bird feeder. Again, the house finches found it and I whiled away some peaceful time with the simple joy of birding.