Becky’s contribution to Michael’s Gila Nature Blog
Ever since we began letting our two horses, Yaqui and Saino, graze on the 30 acres immediately surrounding the Casitas, we’ve had a problem with the bird seed.
Each Casita has a bird feeder and a can full of birdseed. Guests at Casitas de Gila Guesthouses are welcome to keep their feeder full and enjoy the variety of birds that visit. The problem is that two of the “birds” weigh 1,000 pounds each. As you can well imagine, we go through a LOT of birdseed. So it’s always been a bit of a dilemma for us. We want our guests to feed and enjoy the birds. But we really don’t want the horses eating the birdseed. Our guests, on the other hand, are generally delighted when the horses come around and are thoroughly entertained while watching them tip the feeders.
Not so long ago, some thoughtful Casita guests left behind a couple packages of suet. Not wanting to waste them, I got a holder and we put the suet up at the house, right outside our kitchen window, where we could watch. It was moderately successful in that some of the finches ate the suet, but the block of suet lasted quite a while. Eventually I had to decide whether to retire the holder or buy suet. I bought suet. Berry-flavored suet. The birds liked that, and they ate it fairly quickly. So a couple of weeks ago I bought peanut suet. WOW! The Pine Siskins practically flocked to that suet! What a show we had every morning while we sat by the window and drank our Irish tea.
After watching this for a couple of mornings, I had an epiphany. Why I did not have this epiphany long ago puzzles me, but at least I finally had it.
I could replace the bird feeders with peanut suet!
The horses can’t get at it (maybe, not sure yet). And the birds will still come. Throw a little seed on the ground below it for the other birds, and voilá! problem solved.
Having a filled suet feeder at each Casita still doesn’t completely solve the other horse-and-birdseed problem we’ve had over the years: The horses will do everything they can to get into the can of birdseed. And it’s not just the horses! Mice, chipmunks and squirrels also want their share of birdseed.
Through the years we’ve have various kinds of containers holding birdseed. They all had one thing in common: they had to fit under the bench on the porch, away from the horses and any wetness. The mice, chipmunks and squirrels ate right through the plastic containers to get to the seed. And generally the horses could grab onto them and pull them out. Metal would be good, but we couldn’t find anything small enough to fit under the bench but large enough to hold a reasonable amount of seed.
A few years ago we hit on the idea of buying the holiday popcorn tins, tossing the popcorn, and filling the cleaned-out container with birdseed. Well, this worked great! Most of the time.
Occasionally one of the horses would manage to get into a popcorn container. We’d clean up the mess and try to keep the containers out of their reach. One day I was walking past Casita de las Flores and I saw the lid off the container. I was grumbling about those darn horses as I started walking over to put the lid back on. Several steps later, a very large squirrel jumped out of the container and ran off! Dang, I thought! We haven’t licked this problem at all.
So off I went to get a pair of pliers and proceeded to bend the lid edge in all around. I did this on all five containers, and now the lids needed to be pried off to get at the seed.
That worked really well for the squirrels; they simply could not get at that seed now. But the horses … well, all they had to do was get that can out from under the bench, step on it a few times, and they had their birdseed treat again.
Each re-purposed popcorn can now bears a large label:
BIRD SEED: KEEP UNDER BENCH—AWAY FROM HORSES
So far, it’s working.
Now if we can only figure out how to keep the horses from drinking the hummingbird food . . .