DEAR JOHANNA: When we first hung our bird feeder in an elder last fall, it took a few weeks for a few birds to find it. Now it is full of birds from morning to night. We seem to attract everything but vultures, hummingbirds and crows.
I would say at peak times there might be 40 birds on the feeder, hanging from the elderberry or walking around kicking up pods.
My wife is busy refilling it and keeping it clean, but I wonder if it could actually be better for the birds if we let it out on occasion for a day or so.
As a side note, the feral cats that have plagued us seem to have avoided our garden these days. Could the size of the herd intimidate you?
Lance, San Jose
LOVE LANCE: I don’t see any real benefit to the birds in skipping a day or two, but it certainly won’t harm them. Over time, you may lose some regular visitors looking for a more regular food supply.
When you first start feeding it is important to keep the feeder full to attract the birds. However, once they know where the feed is, you can leave the feeder empty for about a day without risking all of the birds leaving you.
Birds never know where their next meal will come from, so they will eat as much as they can while they can. This becomes expensive for the person who buys the birdseed.
If you want to preserve the feed but want the birds to keep coming, fill a small automatic feeder at dawn (or the night before). Birds usually start eating first. As soon as the feeder is empty, do not refill it until the next day. The birds will move on to find food elsewhere, but they will be back at your home the next morning. You can also try bird food blocks, which tend to last longer.
I’m not sure what is keeping the cats in check. Some of the larger birds will bomb and chase the cats away, but hungry cats are hard to discourage for long.
DEAR JOHANNA: One of my house cat’s ears is getting extremely dirty and the vet said it was not ear mite. I know not to use Q-tips, but it bothers him terribly. What can I do?
Claudia Pharaoh, Sevierville, Tennessee
DEAR CLAUDIA: Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation for a cleaning solution. Using something that is not good for your cat’s ears can lead to numbness or imbalance.
The best cleaning tool is gauze squares, which you can find at any pharmacy.
Gently wrap your cat in a towel and make a purrito – tight enough to hold it securely, but not so tight that it freaks out at the burrito-like reluctance.
Sit in a comfortable position and hold your cat in your lap. Take the tip of the ear, gently pull it back, and flood the ear with the solution. Use the gauze to clean the ear, then tilt your cat’s head to drain the cleaning solution if it hasn’t shaken its head and let it fly.
Next, use a clean, dry piece of cheesecloth to gently dry the ear, reward it with some goodies, and move on to the other ear. Don’t expect everything to go perfectly the first time, but you will both be good at it the more you do it, and he should feel better with clean ears.
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