Like most boys growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, my brother and I spent some time building plastic models. One of the first I remember was when my dad helped us build a model of the battleship Iowa. There was no paint on that one; just gray plastic. Most of my friends gravitated to models of cars and hot rods. That’s were we began to experiment with brushed-on enamel paint. The finish was far from perfect, but the colors did add individuality to our creations. I tried a few of model cars, but found that models of things with wings interested me more. That spawned a lifelong interest in airplanes. When we had a couple of bucks to spend, it was often for another plastic model. I continued to build an occasional model well into high school, but my brother went on to become a master modeler of aircraft and other military hardware of museum quality.
There was a period of a couple of years when some unique models of things with wings were available. They were models of birds; mostly life-sized with accurate feather detail. They came with their own paint sets that were small pellets on a plastic “pallet.” The brush was dipped into some kind of solvent that picked up the paint when the.pellet was dabbed. This, in turn, was applied to the bird. The solvent doubled as glue to hold the model parts together. The result was quite remarkable and lifelike. This memory popped into my head as I was watching orioles and hummingbirds on a nectar feeder hanging next to our deck and rose-breasted grosbeaks on the sunflower feeder. One of the first model birds I made was a Baltimore oriole. I remember making a bluebird, a red-headed woodpecker, a ruby-throated humming bird, a rose-breasted grosbeak and even a scarlet macaw. That one wasn’t life-sized. There may have been one or two others that I don’t recall. I remember putting a couple of them out on our bird feeder to see how other birds responded, but I don’t recall the results of my experiment. The models are long gone, but my interest in, and appreciation for, the beauty of birds remains 60 years later.
Warm-season bird feeding is as rewarding as winter feeding. Most of the same foods are still attractive, but suet cakes can get messy during hot weather. I’ll soon switch to no-melt peanut based cakes. Extra care must be taken to keep feeders clean; especially after rains. Seeds even in tube feeders can cake together once wet and won’t flow evenly out the feeder holes. Sunflower seeds sometimes start to sprout in the feeder when wet. Worse, they can grow moldy. Some kinds of mold can make birds sick. An occasional washing with a long-handled bottle brush and even a disinfecting bath of 10 percent bleach solution will keep things healthy. Plastic domes that fit over the top of tube feeders can reduce the amount of rain that gets in and double as a deterrent to squirrels. Warm weather also can lead to hatches of insect eggs that are impossible to separate from bird seed. Older batches of seed will often appear “webby” and dusty as the insect larvae feed. Bad seed should be disposed of and replaced with fresh, clean seed.
Birds are currently having no trouble finding water from spring rain puddles, but there will be times in the months ahead when a well-maintained bird bath might be the only water source in the neighborhood. During those times, a water source can be even more attractive to birds than food. A bird bath needn’t be more than a couple of inches deep and can be as simple as a plastic garbage can lid on the ground. Bird bath maintenance is a must, and includes frequent replacement of the water as it becomes fouled with dirt and bird droppings. It may have to be changed two or three times a week. That will also prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Algae can grow rapidly during warm, sunny weather, too. Getting rid of that involves some scrubbing with a stiff bristle brush. The high pressure “jet” nozzle on a hose or a pressure washer can help blast it away, too.
Enjoy summer bird feeding, but keep the feeder area clean and healthy.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.