Wondering what to get that birder on your list? There are plenty of websites that offer the best gifts for bird lovers. But how do you know to avoid those gifts that won’t deliver as expected? Here are my suggestions on what not to buy, and why:
Felt birdhouse. These are adorable but they have some serious shortcomings if you intend to actually offer them as nest boxes. For one, felt may be “naturally waterproof” but the blurb goes on to mention that you can air dry them if they become soaked. A soaked house is not healthy for baby birds.
Another issue is they can’t be cleaned after the birds are done for the season. It’s vital to clean out nest boxes every year to prevent the build-up of blood-sucking lice, which can be fatal to nestlings. Finally, there is no way to protect the birds from predators such as squirrels and raccoons. Metal door guards can be easily attached to wooden nest boxes to prevent animals from gnawing the opening to make it bigger. Go ahead and buy the birdhouses, but please don’t hang them where unwary birds will nest in them!
Other decorative birdhouses intended to be used by the birds. There are dozens of really clever birdhouse designs, from an Airstream trailer to this cat with an open mouth. How can you resist? Unfortunately, the problem is the same as with the felt feeders above—how do you clean them? Unless a nest box is weather-resistant, predatory-resistant, and cleanable, consider it a decorating accessory.
“Squirrel-proof” birdfeeders that aren’t squirrel-proof. Sure, the design might keep the squirrels from actually extracting seed from the feeder. However, these tree-rats are smart. They know they don’t actually have to reach the seed in the feeder—they just have to knock the seed out onto the ground. It’s amazing how quickly a couple of squirrels can empty a squirrel-proof feeder! A better option is to use a cone-shaped baffle to keep squirrels completely away from the feeder.
Wooden birdfeeders for yards with squirrels. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I used to have a redwood birdfeeder very similar to this one. When we moved to Colorado, I hung it up and filled it with black oil sunflower seeds. A few days later, I noticed the feeder was gone. A short search revealed the remains—two gnawed-on pieces of Plexiglas and some sunflower hulls.It appears that squirrels are fond of redwood, especially if it encases bird seed.
Impossible-to-clean hummingbird feeders. I’ve seen some beautiful hummingbird feeders—often made of ceramic or glass by talented artists—that are nearly impossible to clean. Sugar water invites the growth of mold inside the feeder, which must be cleaned off to avoid sickening the birds. Make sure any feeder you buy has an opening at least large enough for a bottle brush. (I prefer ones I can get a sponge into.) Avoid anything with hard-to-reach ins and outs, such as the feeder shown here. Even if your bottle brush bends, how in the world are you going to clean this feeder?
Instant hummingbird food. You do not need to purchase hummingbird food. The only ingredient is sugar! To make fake nectar for filling hummingbird feeders, combine 1 part ordinary granulated table sugar (no substitutes) with 4 parts water. Heat enough to dissolve, then cool and fill feeder. Store extra in refrigerator. Do not add red food coloring. The jury is still out on whether it harms the birds or not, but why take chances?
(I had to laugh when I read the blurb that came with the product shown here: “The water in … garden song ready to use hummingbird food is processed by patented advanced hydration technology. The 100% sucrose simulates the nectar from flowers.” In other words, it’s sugar water.)
Cheap binoculars. Now that I have two young granddaughters, I’m looking forward to introducing them to birding. At some point they’re going to need binoculars. Naturally, I’m thinking twice before spending a lot of money on binoculars that are likely to be dropped or worse. After all, you can buy “kid binos” (like the ones at right) for $15 or so. On the other hand, poor optics will just get them frustrated. Since I want to them to enjoy watching birds, I’m planning to buy “real” binoculars for them. I’ll just have to make sure the strap stays around their neck or, even better, get them harnesses.
If you need a gift for a new birder, it’s tempting to give them a pair of binoculars. After all, you can’t really bird without them. Decent binoculars aren’t cheap, however. Read the reviews and try them out yourself before making a purchase. If they’re beyond your budget, pick another gift to give.
There are hundreds of wonderful gifts birders will love. Hopefully this list will help you narrow your choices.