Love birds, hate deer, fear bears

PHOTO: Christina Hiatt Brown

When I take on new interests, I dive in headfirst with minimal forethought. That’s how giant sunflowers took over my garden last year and why I found myself howling like a wolf out my living room window this spring, appearances be damned.

To explain, when I began to feel affection for wild birds a few years ago, I skipped all the steps between curiosity and fanaticism. I wanted the whole forest to teem with avian acquaintances.

Why birds?

After all, birds aren’t nice. With significant training they might pretend to be nice. Even then, they will relieve themselves on you. Birds don’t go Number One or Number Two. They Go-Gurt. If you come near their nest, they’ll dive bomb you. If you tip over dead they will pick your bones clean. Clean, except for their leavings.

But I love birds. I love birds because they’re not nice. Birds are beautiful, interesting and honest. They’re just trying to survive and so am I. Birds used to be dinosaurs. They escaped extinction by teaching themselves how to fly. So what if they eat the dead and poop on cars? They earned it.

Minnesota winters are psy-ops. We all know this. Birds provide a dash of color to the icy white tableau. That’s why my son Henry and I started feeding birds a few years back. The first year was simple but good. One feeder on a pole. The next year, however, a bear smashed the feeder to pieces, bending the pole like a twist-tie.

Last year, my deck feeders brought in beaucoup birds, but their guano made the dog sick. Back to the drawing board. I hung feeders off a tree branch until a bear came along and snapped the entire 100-pound tree limb before smashing all the feeders.

This year, I erected wrought iron hooks outside the dog fence for the birds to visit in view of our living room. Back in November, this worked great. But then the squirrels figured it out. Most bird people know that “squirrel proof” feeders are really more “squirrel resistant.” I was tolerant of squirrels because they provided entertainment. They’re shadier and less cooperative than birds, but who am I to chase squirrels through their elaborate snow tunnel systems? These were the lessons of Vietnam.

The real problem came from deer. Legally, I am a deer hunter. Practically, this is a highly dubious claim. Does and yearlings often winter on our property. No prob, until three of them figured out how to empty my seven-pound feeder in one 15-minute tongue frenzy. Then they repeated the feat every day during the month of March.

I tried yelling out the window at them. That worked at first, but then didn’t. I tried opening the basement door to scare them. That worked at first, but then didn’t. Someone told me to try barking at them, which worked at first but then didn’t. By the end I was howling like a wolf, which worked best of all — until they came back when I was at work and cleaned me out. Three 40-pound bags of seed later, I conceded defeat.

A few weeks ago, I took down the feeders. It felt early, but I can’t chance the bears knocking out another slate of expensive feeders. Besides, the deer no longer fear me. My howling amuses them.

Next year, I’ll have this figured out. Next year will be different, I know it.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, April 29, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. You are a rookie bird / deer feeder! My herd of deer laughed in my face when I threw snowballs at them this spring. My local bears pulled down all 7 of my feeders just a few days ago. Until you become an expert in feeder repair, you will remain just a rookie!

  2. Fred Schumacher says

    I think the problem lies with the hanging feeders. I bet they never empty out before nightfall. We get mostly grosbeaks and finches all winter and then juncos in spring. They prefer to feed off a flat surface, either the ground or a sheet of elevated plywood. Birds like to land on corners, so I screwed two scrap pieces of plywood together at right angles and mounted them on a 5 foot section of 4 inch PVC. I use sewer flanges to connect the plywood and base to the PVC pipe. The base is a ply triangle with risers at the corner so the feeder sits on three points. I put seed both on the feeder and on the ground. Deer come along and clean up any leftovers on the ground and also the hulls. Haven’t had any problem with bears, although raccoons and fishers do come by. Squirrels can’t climb up the slippery PVC.

  3. We’ve had the best luck with various feeders hung from a pulley. Of course that depends how close a tree is to your house, or two trees are apart. We’ve had years of good use from a metallic guitar string to hang the feeder from a pulley. Squirrels are their own problem. Some seeds sprinkled on the ground seems to deter the Squirrels from turning on their wiley ways. Some years ago, we had a squirrel or two who used any means possible to get into our suspended feeder. They would take amazing flying leaps, occasionally successfully. They would jump from the cedar tree, sometimes successfully. They would try using the suspension rope/guitar string as a high wire act, sometimes making it over. We tried many deterrents, watching the brain wheels of a squirrel turn, usually defeating us after 10 minutes. After about 2 weeks of mind games, which we always lost, the Squirrels were gone! Then, asking around, I heard from my friends that their Squirrels were also missing. Foxes? Some kind of mold in the seed? A few months later, a Squirrels or two returned.

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