DEAR JOAN: I have been successfully feeding hummingbirds in my backyard for several years. I have three feeders that accommodate one bird each at a time. I feed them the standard sugar-water formula and it has been working well.
However, recently there has been an influx of another type of bird that is hogging the hummingbird feeders, often blocking the hummingbirds from access. I've checked my bird identifier books, and it looks like one of the small finch-like birds -- grayish back with whitish belly. I understand they should be eating seeds.
I thought to add a seed feeder for those birds, but my husband says the seed feeders are excessively messy, and many weeds will grow as a result. I'm not sure what I should do to provide food for both types of birds, or at least get the hummingbirds back at their feeders. Any ideas?
Beth Leung, Pleasanton, Calif.
DEAR BETH: I'm not at all sure what the bird is, but the good news is that in time, your problem should resolve itself. The birds might be hogging the hummingbird feeders now because it's cold and they're looking to pack on more weight as insulation. As it warms up, they'll feed more on seeds and insects.
In the meantime, I'd suggest getting hummingbird feeders that can accommodate more than one bird at a time, as well as a selection of seed feeders. Bee guards on the hummer feeders also will prevent the shorter beaked birds from supping.
To minimize the mess and the weeds, buy quality bird seed. There will be less spillage, which helps justify the higher price, and the better seed blends will not contain weed seeds.
However, we are talking seeds here, so you might get some plants sprouting. Install seed catchers -- large discs or plates -- under the feeders to catch the spillage.
Another complaint about seed feeders is that they can attract rats. You likely already have rats in your yard or neighborhood, but if it's a concern, you might need to bring the feeders in or empty the seeds out at night.
DEAR JOAN: Coming home from Reno on Martin Luther King Day, we passed several big rigs going west on I-80 that were loaded with hundreds of bee hives. They were covered with a fine netting. You could see some of the bees trapped under the netting that had escaped the hives. The netting was labeled Thomas Honey Farms.