Update: The Birds

You guys, I know it’s more than halfway through June and I haven’t really peeped about my June project goals.

Eh, well, things have not gone quite as Snow White as I was hoping. Fresh off my trip to my parents’ houses, where each has created an avian paradise with feeders and a delightful variety of songbirds, I resolved to add some feeders to my front yard garden and create my own chirpy paradise.

My wise mother advised that the key to a variety of birds was a variety of food, so I added this sweet but sturdy shepherd’s hook and two feeders.

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Every few days, I stock one feeder with a songbird blend and the other with pure black oil sunflower seed. I haven’t yet decided what to put on the lowest hook yet, because the birds are like little piggies on the existing feeders. They fling food everywhere. That stuff that looks like grass in front of the bird bath? Sprouted birdseed. Lovely. Fortunately, it’s super easy to pull. I only fill the feeders once or twice a week, which forces the birds to dig around on the ground for scraps and (hopefully) minimize what’s left behind to sprout.

My mom’s significant other always sings the praises of suet. I always reckoned suet as a cold-weather food, but apparently you just have to make sure you get the no-melt kind in summer. I got a cheap little suet holder and hung it from a tiny shepherd’s hook below my crepe myrtle. Inside the branches of that tree, I also have a little nesting ball to encourage some birdies to take up residence in my yard.

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The blue circle is the suet feeder; the orange is the nesting ball.

Most recently, I’ve also added a little hummingbird feeder to my kitchen window. I’ve never successfully attracted hummingbirds, though apparently they’re prolific in my area. I’m also terrible at remember to switch out the nectar, which may be the problem.

So what has this bounty attracted to my yard?

Like 5,000 house sparrows.

For a while, I also has numerous crow visitors, but they seem to be taking a break.

Briefly, I thought I saw a chickadee or two. I love chickadees because they tend to look chubby and cheerful. A few grackles have also visited. I’ve also seen several brown birds with red heads. The internet suggests these are house finches, but elsewhere, it doesn’t look like those little guys are supposed to be in my region this time of year.

But I really wanted some variety – some robins and bluebirds and goldfinches. Some color.

Ask and ye shall receive.

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Pigeons.

Last weekend, the pigeons found my feeders. Oh boy, did they find them. They told all their pigeon friends and they had a pigeon party at Chez Robyn.

Ugh.

But maybe word will eventually get around to the other songbirds and I’ll see a bit more variety in breeds. I might eventually add a peanut feeder and see if that attracts anyone else. On the plus side, unlike my mom, I don’t have to battle a horde of squirrels. I really just have one stubborn little monster who digs up my bulbs. I think the armies of birds around my feeders intimidate the squirrel, as I haven’t really seen it go for the feeder. So yay for the small victories!

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Meet the Flock

We’ve spent a lot of time in the front yard so far, but hey, there’s a whole lotta land behind my house. Hah! Kidding – my house sits on less than 1/4 acre, but I’m trying to cram as much as possible on that little bit of dirt. As of this posting, that include five chickens and four ducks.

The winter after I moved into my house, I started researching what a backyard flock required. Housing. Food. Protection from predators. Part of this came from my mom talking about getting chickens on and off while I was growing up. She never did it, though, so I figured I’d give it a go and see how two little fluffy chickens went.

Hehehe.

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The feed store near me had Barred Plymouth Rocks, so I got a pair of those in 2013.

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They were the top hens – assertive to others yet submissive to me. I quickly realized the pair would not be enough, and two months later, I picked up a pair of Buff Orpingtons.

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Man, chicks are awkward and cute at the same time. It’s so much fun to watch them explore.

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While both of my Barred Rocks had similar dominant personalities, the Buff Orpingtons are pretty different. I call the slightly smaller one “Sassy” because she’s quick to fly off the handle at the other birds and if she’s displeased with a person, she pecks feet. The other is “Goofy” because she frequently gets lost in my tiny backyard.

Once upon a time (when they were chicks living indoors), the chickens had pet names, but those went away when they moved outside. For the most part, the birds are either “chicken” or “duck.” Sometimes, if I’m feeling especially lovey-dovey, they’ll get “baby chickie” or “duck-duck.”

I’m sorry to say that the Barred Rocks have both since passed on.

Last year (2017), my chicken-raising friend got a batch of new chicks and I started to feel the itch too. However, I didn’t really want more chickens exactly, so I ordered ducklings through the mail.

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The idea of ordering live animals has always made me uncomfortable, but the only breed I could find locally was Pekin. I’m sure Pekins are lovely, but I wanted something a bit different. I ordered two Blue Swedish (the grayer ducklings) and two Welsh Harlequins (the blonder ones).

People don’t lie when they say ducks are messier than chickens, and it’s mostly down to poop. Chickens have infrequent solid poop and most of it plops out as they roost at night. It’s easy to contain and clean. Ducks, however, often pause in their travels to shoot out watery poop. If they eat fish, that poop might even turn blackish. There; now you know about duck and chicken poop.

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The funny thing is, I was never a huge fan of ducks until I decided to add them to my flock. They are absolutely hilarious to watch, though. I was worried they might be loud, since I live in a city neighborhood, but they’re pretty quiet. When the ducks do make noise, it’s “chatter” (like a very soft goose honk) or the occasional startled quack.

While the ducks will turn your pristine pond into a mess, they aren’t as destructive in the garden as chickens. My ducks will root around with their bills, but the chickens have sharp little feet their use to scratch apart plants and dirt.

This spring (2018), I got the itch again. I was still recovering from my ex and spending loads of time in the garden was a large part of my healing. I realized just how much satisfaction I get from raising and caring from animals. The feed store also happened to have some breeds I haven’t yet raised:  Rhode Island Red and Australorps.

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So. Stinkin. Cute.

I’ve heard that Rhode Island Reds can be aggressive, so I only got one. All three, however, seem to have similar personalities – very energetic, curious, and adventurous. After a day or two, they were already climbing all over me. My other chickens were quite shy.

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David Attenborough voice:  “Here, we see three juvenile females – oh! Looks like we’ve been spotted.”

Now that I’m more comfortable with raising ducks and chickens, this batch of chicks moved outside way earlier than the others. Previously, my system was to raise the birds in a large dog kennel in my living room for a few months until they had feathers. These three moved outside at two weeks old.

Of course, it helps that I live in a subtropical climate and even our early spring days were close to 70F. I also put their brood shelf outside (protected in a plastic bin) so they had access to heat. For weeks, they lived in their own little section of the coop, fenced off for protection from the older birds. Although the chicks were freaked out at first, they seemed to enjoy living outside, and they feathered out quickly.

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Ah, destroying my gardens as a family. How sweet.

Now everyone gets along, for the most part. I was worried that the young chicks might grow up to be aggressive, but living with the older birds from a young age has tempered that a bit. If one of the younger chickens gets in the way of a duck, the duck will make like she’s going to smack the chicken with her bill. They don’t make contact, though. No one’s singled out, and no blood is drawn. Yay!

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I won’t lie. The birds are a bit of work, and keeping the flies at bay is a constant battle (it doesn’t help that I live close to the stables of a horse racing track). They are more at risk to predators than other pets because they live outside. Losing them really freakin’ hurts, because often, we as owners could’ve done more to protect them.

But few things in my life up to this point can compare to sitting under the pergola, coffee in hand, on a Saturday morning and watching the birds wander around the yard. Then, when my tummy rumbles, I head inside and cook a pair of fresh eggs.

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Next Month’s Project List: June 2018

During my annual visits home, I always come back brimming with ideas for house projects. My mom still lives in the house where I grew up, so it’s interesting to see what she’s done with her gardens. She and her significant other have also worked hard to attract a variety of birds to her yard.

My dad, on the other hand, is more a construction and carpentry type guy (perhaps important to note here:  my parents don’t live together). He has a house in the mountains but also spends a lot of time at his girlfriend’s house, closer to a city. I normally visit the girlfriend’s house, and during this visit, he was showing me the new shed he built and the welder that she got him for Christmas (drool; I’ve wanted to learn metalworking for years).

So for June, I’d like to focus on two areas:

1. Bring all the birds to the yard.

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Sparrow by Flickr on Pexels.com

My backyard is dedicated to the ducks and chickens. I don’t have bird feeders back there, though, as wild birds can bring disease to my flock. The crows have descended with a vengeance anyway. I’ve also seen increasing number of house sparrows. My younger chickens have even made a game of chasing and trying to catch the sparrows (it ain’t happenin’, girls). But as for wild birds, those two are it at the moment.

My mom’s yard, however, has probably a dozen different types of birds – cardinals, woodpeckers, robins, etc. The secret is, obviously, a large selection of feed. They have various seeds, peanuts, and suet cakes. While I don’t want to go that far, my goal is to lure the sparrows and crows out of my backyard and also increase the variety of bird visitors. My bird bath has seen some visitors, but I’m adding another traditional feeder (for a total of two) and a suet cake cage. As my garden gets established, there will also be more plant-based food and places for birds to hide.

2. Expand the shed.

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From the beloved musical “Mulch Sweeper”

When I bought this house, there was no exterior storage. My first lawn mower lived under a tarp. But when my granny passed away, I got a little bit of inheritance and used it to buy a 10×10 shed from the big box store. It’s been a good, solid shed. The ex and I even jacked the building up, put it on rollers, and scooched it back about 10 feet. But y’all, it’s too small.

I’ve tried downsizing the shed contents, but the reality is, the majority of things I like to do involve tools and materials that live outside. Ideally – and I may be dreaming here – the shed would have at least one electrical outlet and a nice workbench too. Nothing too dramatic, but right now, I cut my 2x4s on a wobbly folding table. Kiiind of unsafe.

The plan is to expand the shed (towards me, in the above photo) by four feet. My dad thinks that’ll be too small, but anymore than that and it’ll be hard to navigate around my established gardens. The end result should be a nice 10×14 shed.

Even though there are only two projects here, I’ll probably do other little things along the way. Also, as I’ve previously noted, I really struggle with predicting how long projects will take. After all, I work during the day and only have the nights and weekends for project time!

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