Delia’s Feeders

By Delia Berlin

David and I have been feeding birds at our home for over 40 years. David is the main supplier of bird foods, and he certainly does not cut corners. He knows that different kinds of birds have different food preferences. The types of foods they eat and the ways in which they eat them span a wide range. So, if you want to attract birds of many species, you need to offer much more than just one type of seed in one kind of feeder. In addition, you must provide water, and plantings that supply shelter, berries, and nuts.

On any given winter day, at a minimum, David puts out mixed seed and chunks of suet on an elevated tray feeder, sunflower seeds in a tube feeder, a thistle seed bag, cayenne suet cakes in a cage, dried mealworms in a dish on the deck, black oil sunflower hearts in a feeder by the kitchen window, and some more mixed seed scattered on the ground in several areas. In warmer weather, the suet takes a break but the hummingbird feeder appears. Wherever we have lived, we have been successful in attracting lots of birds of many species. However, over the years, we have noticed a sharp decline in their numbers that is a well-documented phenomenon worldwide.

One of the feeders we enjoy the most is the little sunflower feeder that hangs from a shepherd’s hook by the kitchen window. Made from ceramic and with a small perching hole, it attracts only our smallest birds, like chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and Carolina wrens. Larger birds are unable to perch and feed there. Occasionally a gray squirrel runs up the hook and tries to get seeds by hand, but the process is inefficient and that seems to be enough to discourage the practice. We have a large viburnum in front of this feeder and there is a constant parade of birds circulating from the feeder to the bush and back. This dynamic view from the kitchen sink can magically make food preparation quite entertaining.

Our original little-bird feeder was a gift from friends. It had a wooden perch and a single draining hole. After replacing the perch a few times, David asked me to make a ceramic bird feeder based on the same design. He asked for additional draining holes and an unbreakable perch. As an active member of Spiral Arts Studio, I’m always looking for new ceramic projects, so I welcomed the challenge.

My first bird feeder came out quite cute from a human’s perspective, but I wasn’t sure if the birds would like it. We replaced the old feeder with mine and waited for their response. As we had expected, the birds were cautious and took a couple of weeks to try it. But once they did, they had no difficulty feeding and visited it frequently. My design was better in terms of drainage and had a sturdy, built-in ceramic perching surface. So, I continued making feeders. 

For a while, I “field-tested” each new feeder I made on our shepherd’s hook. Each time, the birds took a little while to feel comfortable with the new one. But they soon got used to the constant change and started trying the feeders almost immediately. I no longer feel the need to test every single one, so we have allowed one to stay undisturbed for months. David refills it daily with sunflower seeds, using a small funnel.

The general concept of these ceramic feeders is a receptacle with a perching hole, which makes them look like a tiny birdhouse. Many people think they are birdhouses, and apparently some birds do too. This past summer, we were surprised to see a house wren exploring the feeder—house wrens are mainly insect eaters and do not frequent feeders. But soon a mate joined the first visitor, they both jumped inside and proceeded to fling out every single seed left in the feeder, only to refill it with nesting material. Although this pair entertained us by perching, sitting, housekeeping, and singing around the feeder, they never actually laid eggs in it. House wrens are territorial nesters, and they often take possession of more nesting sites than they can use, just to keep other birds from using them.

As projects go, making these feeders has been a favorite of mine. They present endless opportunities for variation, and each one is unique. I even dream about new designs. Understandably, my feeder inventory grew, and I started giving them as gifts to friends and relatives. But there is a limit to the number of one’s personal relationships and how many things people can accept. Early this year, it became clear that if I wanted to continue making bird feeders, I needed another outlet.

One day I was shopping at The Hoot and, aware of their assortment of feeders, I asked if they ever bought locally made ones. The answer was a qualified yes. I didn’t have any samples ready but arranged to call back once I did. In the meantime, I created a colorful business card with text on the back:

Uniquely designed and hand-built by Delia Berlin at Spiral Arts, in Willimantic, CT. Fill up to the opening with black oil sunflower seeds and hang in a sheltered location. Watch and enjoy chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, and more.

When the cards were printed, I took seven tagged feeders to The Hoot, where six were immediately purchased. I will not reach out beyond the local community and will not accept consignment orders. But I may consider adding Mackey’s or Ladd’s, and perhaps offer feeders at Spiral Arts during special events. Knowing that my feeders are finding homes helps to keep me inspired and creative. 

Meanwhile, if you spot one of my feeders while you are out and about and feel drawn to it, I suggest that you snatch it up. Not only is each of them unique, but their total number is limited. They are fully hand-built and hand-glazed, quite slow to produce, and I will be turning 70 this year. You can do the math.

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