Monday, December 21, 2015

For The Birds, Part 1

We have more than our share of wildlife here at the Farm House. While this can occasionally be troublesome, our pups do a great job of keeping the predators at bay. Nature is a fine thing, but we want our yard to be Daktari, not Wild Kingdom.

The first summer here, I put up a big platform feeder on a 8-foot galvanized-steel pole that came with it. It was a simple feeder, just a wood frame with a perforated-metal insert to hold the food and provide drainage, but it served our needs quite well.

June 2007, about a year after I installed the feeder.

I set the pole in a sand base two feet into the ground. It did just fine for nearly a decade, serving all comers with no problems. I had to tighten up the joints of the feeder occasionally, and eventually replaced all the screws with better ones, but the pole remained serenely unchanged by the passing years.

Then, a few years ago a new species began to appear, some sort of dove or pigeon that is larger than a rock dove (the common street pigeon), with a generally pearl-gray body and a dark collar on the back of the neck. As nearly as I have been able to determine, it is the Eurasian collared dove, although our birds are larger and of a more substantial build than the breed description.

For a long time, there was only one pair of the collared doves. Eventually, another pair appeared, then a third. Then, before we knew it, the feeder was covered with them. It was much like that sequence in The Birds wherein one bird lands on a jungle gym, then after a while the scene cuts back briefly to show a half-dozen, and after a while the scene cuts back to the same shot a third time, only this time you can't see the jungle gym for all the birds on it. Soon thereafter, the birds start breaking things.

So it went with us. The collared dove population kept increasing until by the start of this past summer, they had become a genuine nuisance. Scores of them would appear each day, occupying every square inch of the feeder. When they'd eaten all the food, they'd just hang out on the feeder like a street gang, blocking all other customers. We'd shoo them away, but they'd return in short order.

After a month or so of this, we looked out one day to find that the pole had actually bent under the weight of all those doves. Not only that, but they'd bent the feeder's mounting plate and the metal insert, and loosened all the joints badly. As a result, the feeder was pretty much useless.

Great, another unscheduled job. Well, at least it would be a quick, simple one. The hole was already dug. All I had to do was get a new feeder and a stronger pole, take out the old pole, empty the hole, put in the new pole, fill the hole up again, and put up the new feeder. It was a day's work at most, once I found a new feeder and a stouter pole.

I surveyed our usual online sources. I found a half-dozen or so feeders that would serve, but no poles long enough to suit me. I needed eight feet at least; we'd learned from experience that this pole length was necessary to place the feeder high enough to keep our invited dinner guests safe from our canine security detail when the pole was sunk to the proper depth. Anything less than 8 feet, and either the feeder would not be high enough, or the pole would not be stable enough.

At that point, I came down with a pretty bad case of pneumonia, and was out of commission for about six weeks. When I recovered, I was wholly occupied with the task of catching up on all the general maintenance that had gone undone during my illness. I was desperate to get back to my raison d'etre, finishing the exterior restoration.

In order to defer replacement until I had the time to find a suitable new feeder and pole, I reset the old pole in its sand to counteract the bend somewhat and did what I could to fix the other damage. This made the feeder marginally usable. To discourage Las Palomas Gordas from wreaking further damage, we put out only peanuts, which are too big for them to eat. This would at least take care of the squirrels, jays and crows.

After resetting. The feeder was pretty wobbly on the pole.

November rolled around, and with the Christmas season fast approaching, I abandoned hope of getting back to the restoration anytime soon and began my usual seasonal preparations. Then, the weather turned decidedly colder, and Wifey, concerned for the winter welfare of the little birds such as finches, nuthatches, and sparrows who needed actual seeds to eat, took matters in her own hands. She selected a rather pretty new feeder with a roof, and brought her choice to my attention.

This brought the feeder project suddenly front and center once again, and so I put everything else aside in order to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. I liked her choice; it was somewhat smaller than the old feeder, which would lessen the load on the pole, and the roof would, I hoped, make the feeder less accessible to the collared doves, who were too big to fit easily under it.

I wasn't so sure about the pole that was intended to go with the feeder. It was one of those that I had rejected earlier. I didn't like its base: a foot-long socket that was to be buried in the soil. The socket was just a length of pipe with one end squashed. The pole itself was probably okay as far as it went; it was 80 inches long in three segments, and it looked like it could stand up under a load. I figured that at most 10 inches would slip down into the socket, putting the feeder at the absolute minimum height, which was fine. But that would put only one-eighth of the pole in the ground, which is not nearly enough. Good building practice dictates that at least a quarter of a pole or post's length should be in the ground, so that it can carry the load and still remain securely in place.

At this point, however, I was beginning to get desperate. As skeptical as I was about this pole's suitability, it was the only possibly suitable one I had found. Moreover, the company selling the pole is reputable and has been around for longer than I have. The pole's description specifically promised "super stability in any soil."

We've had a pleasant relationship with this company for over twenty years, and in all that time we'd never received a product that did not live up to its description. So I ordered the feeder and the pole. I wished, rather than believed, that the pole would come with a way to embed the socket securely enough in the earth to support the pole, feeder, food and birds.

In due course the order was delivered, but when I unpacked the pole I saw to my great dismay but utter lack of surprise that it came with no instructions, no revelation about its installation that would somehow render it usable. The pole was stout enough, but it was too heavy to be supported by that short socket once the feeder was mounted upon it. In any soil.

Self-evidently inadequate.

Perhaps the most irksome thing about the socket was that it had no drain holes in the bottom, and although the pole was advertised as being powder-coated, it appeared from the thinness of the coating to be merely painted. Thus, even if it were somehow possible to arrive at a stable mounting for this pole, the socket was doomed to rust fairly quickly from the unavoidable accumulation of moisture sitting in it constantly.

Not willing to give up just yet, I thought it might get us at least through the winter if I could drive it directly into the soil, but I had to give up on the attempt before I'd managed to get the socket more than two inches in; our ground is so dense that at that point the top of the socket was already beginning to flatten. It would be unusable before I got it halfway in. If I had tried to sink it in sand, it would slip to one side as soon as I put the feeder on it.

The pole purchase was nonetheless necessary, because I needed the feeder mounting plate that it came with; it has a nice, sturdy socket on the bottom that slips onto the top of a pole and tightens securely with a thumbscrew. I could work with it, if I could find a suitable pole it would fit upon.

If. This put me back at square one. It didn't matter that I had a swell new feeder, because I had no suitable pole for it, and my muse had thus far failed to guide me in the proper direction.

Getting increasingly anxious to put this task behind me, I decided to put the feeder together while I awaited divine inspiration regarding the pole. It was a very pretty feeder, made of solid unfinished cedar with iron roof supports. The stock used was even 7/8 of an inch thick, just like the 4/4 S1S stock used throughout the Farm House. Wifey had chosen well, it seemed.

My job was to screw the supports to the base, then the roof to the supports. It seemed simple enough. They had even put little dents were the screws were supposed to go. The instructions said to line up the holes in the supports with the dents in the wood and start screwing away. They even said it was "OK" if some of the screws didn't go in straight.

Well, skewed screws may be okay with them, but certainly not with me. Furthermore, as I've pointed out more than once, it's never good practice to drive screws into wood without pre-drilling the hole first; either the wood will split or the screw will break.

I became rather annoyed when I looked at the provided screws; they bore a thin yellowish finish that was unsuitable for outdoor use in any event, and especially unsuitable for use in cedar, which is readily and deeply stained by such screws. I briefly considered going out to get the proper stainless steel screws, but at that point I just wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible. Besides, no one else would likely ever see the screws, or the ugly black stains they would make. So, I forged ahead.

Before pre-drilling the holes, I checked the alignment of the guide dents. Fully half of them were way off the mark. I was beginning to suspect that these people just didn't take their business seriously. This was a very expensive feeder, and these blackguards couldn't even be bothered to put their dents in the right place. No wonder it was OK with them if the screws didn't go in straight; once you reject pre-drilling, it's a slippery slope.

I made proper guide marks where they belonged, then drilled pilot holes. Then, I grabbed a screwdriver of the appropriate size and slowly drove the first screw most of the way in, at which point the still-protruding part of the screw, with no warning, twisted right off, despite my having pre-drilled the hole. One of the most expensive feeders on God's green earth, furnished with the cheapest screws I've ever seen. What were they made of, gutta-percha? At this point, I really wanted to drive these screws into my temples and have done with this whole mess. The walls were seriously closing in on me.

Not enough of the screw was left above the wood to back it out with pliers, so I went out to get one of those doodads that allow one to back out a damaged screw, as well as the stainless steel screws that should have been provided in the first place. I had to go to a few places to find these items, only to discover upon returning home that the diameter of the screw shaft was too small for the screw-extractor doodad to work. So I just left the broken screw in place and put the blasted thing together with no further trauma nor offense to my bleeding sensibilities.

I then turned back to the problem of finding a suitable mounting for the feeder. I hit upon the idea of using a 4x4 wood post; I knew the company that sold the feeder had feeder mounting plates for such posts, and this would definitely be strong enough to carry the load. They also mentioned in the feeder's description that it could be mounted on a 4x4 post.

This idea ran aground when I discovered that, in fact, the feeder couldn't be mounted on a 4x4 post, at least not with the only mounting plate the company sold for that purpose; the bottom joist of the feeder wasn't wide enough to accommodate it. I could have modified the feeder to address this problem, but I decided to look for a simpler solution.

As I mentioned, the receptacle provided with the pole that came with the feeder was sturdy enough, so I resolved to try to find a pole that would fit it that would also provide a solid mooring for the feeder. I figured Ganahl Lumber was a promising place to start, because they have an admirable selection of building materials, and they always make me feel at home there.

As usual, Ganahl came through for me. 

Thar be poles here!

I found a nearly perfect solution: a 10-foot length of 3/4-inch (inside diameter) rigid electrical conduit. Despite its name, it's flexible enough to withstand stress and snap back to straightness without staying bent permanently.  It's sturdy enough to carry the weight of a hundred collared doves, made of galvanized steel to resist corrosion, and it has an outside diameter of just over one inch. I say "nearly" perfect because I would have to reduce the diameter of the pole's top down to an inch in order to accept the receptacle.

But I didn't think that would be very hard.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I actually get to the point.

* * *

The Wily Forest Cat lies in wait for his prey, after having hidden all the remotes.


  1. This is the first time I've read your blog and am looking forward to the next installment. What a cool undertaking!

  2. It's comforting to see that truly pathological behavior is indeed a family trait, although you shame me with my inadequacy! I love reading what you write - I can see you standing there, thinking, mumbling gratefully inaudible words like Grandpa used to do, taking as much time as needed to make it right. But now, just like at then end of "The Force Awakens," we are left to wonder "Will he take the lightsabre???" - no, I mean, "Will he actually get to the point????"

    Of course, I just want to know if the little birdies will die from starvation before the feeder is put up. And perhaps you can get get another member of your canine security patrol which/who can jump high enough to be a self-feeder (and who likes fresh collared dove).

    I await the sequel with Bates Hotel breath.

    1. I'm gratified by your comparing me to Grandpa, and I do like to do things right, but I really would have used that crummy pole if I had thought that it would hold that feeder up for even a month. Also, I do need to work on my mumbling; I tend to be too audible when uttering those Grandpa words.

  3. My favorite Grampa word/phrase was uttered when we were driving out to "the ranch" and a car cut him off. I was about 5 at the time, the only passenger in the truck, and he exclaimed "Well kiss my ....." and then looked over and saw that I was there so he finished it with "royal patootie!". I thought it was hilarious, obviously, and think about that at least once a week. I wonder if he knew the legacy that he left us? I doubt it, but I am more grateful for that legacy than I can express. He was (is) an incredible man.

    1. Thanks for that story. By the time I came along, Grandpa had lost most of his rough edges. What I remember was his love for Spoonerisms, which he passed on to me. I remember we were sitting in the El Lado front room watching the first Moon landing. President Nixon was talking to Neil Armstrong on the moon, when suddenly out of nowhere Grandpa said, "Richard. . .Hillmouse...Nixon." I think I hit my head on the coffee table laughing at that. I'm still laughing at that.

      BTW, what was "the ranch"?

  4. Darn those collared doves! Las Palomas Gordas Indeed ;-)


Please don't let the "Comment as" dropbox annoy you:
Simply choose "Anonymous," and no one will check your papers.
Feel free to leave your name in the comment if you'd like.
I will be moderating the comments to keep out the spam.