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goldfinch at feeder

I’ve always been interested in the evolution of birds from their ancestral line of feathered dinosaurs (Long live the dinosaurs!), but recently found myself captivated reading about the evolution of bird feeders. It illustrates the creativity and practical attention to detail we can apply when we strive to help birds.

drawing of bird on feeder
Bird feeder circa 1924

If all we wanted was to supply food to birds, we could just throw some seed on the ground, but in the twentieth century feeders became quite popular and underwent a rapid series of design changes. Roofs were added to protect from rain and snow. It became clear over time that other animals (squirrels, cats, rats) might get more than their fair share, so feeders were designed to be hung and mounted away from the ground. Then competition from larger birds (and acrobatic squirrels) encouraged designs that made it more difficult for larger animals to access the seed.

Cat in feeder Source: Kameleontti (1981) Etelä-Suomen Sanomat

In addition to weather, mammals, and large birds, another unwelcome visitor was bacteria. Feeders are designed to keep bird excrement from accumulating on top of the food. And we now consider a good bird feeder to be one that is easy to take apart and clean. One of my favorite birding activities is enjoying their antics at the feeders. But keeping those feeders clean is essential!

By Debbie Schlenoff

Info and pictures from: Lähdesmäki et al. (2024). Bird feeding devices exclude unwelcome visitors. More-than-humans shaping the architecture and technology of birdfeeders in twentieth-century Finland. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 0 (0)