Archive for June 4th, 2006

Caterer to the Avian World

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

I had tons of stuff to do around the Old Man this weekend, so of course, I blew it all off and decided to put up a bird feeder in the backyard.

I started my adventures by visiting the local pet store, which had a single plastic cheapo bird feeder. Disappointed, I headed over to “PetSmart”–my first ever visit to a huge big-box pet superstore, and I have to confess that I was a bit freaked out by the gargantan selection of stuff that people can blow cash on for pets.

I joined the fray by buying an 18″ tall Stokes Giant Combo Bird Feeder, which I thought would look quite pretty in our yard, along with a 30 pound bag of birdseed. But when I asked a salesperson about something to hang the feeder I got nothing more than a dull stare and a mumbled “Idontthinkwesellthatstuff”. Not to be deterred, I just whipped throught the Home Depot on my way back to the Old Man and bought a 7 foot tall “Shepherd’s Hook” to hang the feeder on.

I got home, stuck the hook into the ground at the edge of the back patio, hung the feeder on and realized that I had a problem. The “crook” of the hook stood about 5’8″ off the ground. That means that the feeder itself stood whopping 4’2″ off the ground, which made it more than easily accessible to the dozen or so squirrels that frequent our backyard. On top of that, the feeder weighs probably 5 pounds empty and holds 12 pounds of seed, and that resulted in one very wobbly shepherds hook. The whole thing looked kind of silly, actually.

I decided that The Right Way to do this was to hang the feeder from one of the tree branches. This would place the feeder at the edge of the patio (good), over 10 feet from the tree (better), and more than 15 feet from the house (best). I figured that this would allow me to hang the feeder at least eight feet off the ground.

The biggest problem that I faced was the fact that the tree branch in question was about 30 feet off the ground, and how was I going to get a loop of cable over it? Before going to the hardware store and buying the equipment I needed, I decided to do a proof of concept test and see if I could get some string over the branch somehow. Despite the fact that I’m a lousy throw, I managed to get a ball of string over the branch in 4 tries. I needed to figure out how much cable to buy, so I marked the string at eye level, tied a knot into it, and pulled the knot up to the branch. I made another mark on the string and then measured the length: 26 feet, so I needed to purchase 54 feet of cable (tossing in an extra two feet for good measure).

so I headed to the hardware store to buy:

  • 54 feet of 18″ coated cable.
  • 1 foot of 3/4″ heater hose
  • 1 small carabiner
  • pack of 3 1/8″ wire rope clips
  • pack of 2 3/16″ wire rope clips

I came home and laid the cable out in a long U and found the midpoint of the cable. I cut the heater hose in half, and cut a strip out of one half of the length of the hose–this allowed me to stuff the cut hose inside of the uncut hose, giving me a double thickness hose to use as a saddle over the branch. I threaded the cable through my modified hose to the midpoint and taped it on with duct tape (just to hold it until I got the cable mounted on the branch). I then taped one end of the cable to one end of the string that still dangled from the branch and pulled the cable up and over the branch. A little fiddling gave me my cable hanging from the branch above with the hose saddle on top of the branch.

I got out my big ladder, climbed up and about 9′ off the ground created a loop on one end of the cable by binding it to itself with the three 1/8″ rope clips. I then bound that end of the cable to the dangling end of the cable with the 3/16″ rope clips and tightened the clips as far as they would go with my socket wrench. The only thing left was to cut the extra cable off, and since I had no wire cutters that would work through a 1/8″ stranded steel cable, I pulled out my Dremel tool and a few cut-off wheels and sawed off the excess cable. Ten pounds of birdseed later and I had the feeder hanging. I’m really happy with the way it looks, and since it’s so high off the ground, it’s just the right height for birdwatching from the breakfast room. Sunday morning during breakfast, we saw some of our local finches helping themselves to the feed, and although a number of them seemed somewhat leery of the new feeder, the local cardinals knew just what to do. I’ll try and post a picture sometime this week.
Now one of the reasons I hung the feeder as high as I did is that I’m hoping to discourage the squirrels from trying to eat the birdseed. Given the height off the ground and the distance from the tree, I don’t see how a squirrel could jump to it–if it missed its target, it would surely break its neck when it hit the ground. Their only real chance is to make their way down the cable somehow. I know from several friends that there’s no way to create a totally squirrel-proof bird feeder, but since our next-door neighbor feeds the squirrels several handfuls of peanuts everyday, I’m hoping that that keeps them fat and happy and content to not muck about with my birdfeeder. In any case, given how overengineered my cable is, I could always dispense with the bird feeder and hang a tire swing from it. 🙂

Now about that stuff that I was supposed to be doing this weekend…