By Thom Smith

Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Reader offers his design for squirrel-proof feeder


Get some old [or new] vinyl-clad clothes line at least twice as long as the distance between a [sturdy] tree branch [about 20 feet] and the ground. To one end of the line I tied a short piece of wood [for weight] and tossed it over the selected branch. It took me a few tries. With both ends of the line reaching the ground, attach the feeder to one end.

As an added deterrent, I took a plastic cover from a large coffee can, punched a [center] hole through it and knotted the line to keep it secured about a foot or so above the feeder. Fill the feeder with seed, pull the feeder up so it is about half way up and fasten. In the four years of using this system, only one squirrel has tried to come down the line. It barely made it to the deflector, lost its grip and fell "safely" to the ground. They are welcome to munch all the spillage that the birds provide. Be sure and trim any close branches that might provide the squirrels access to the feeder.

— Rene, Bennington, Vt.


Thought you might be interested to know that on Saturday morning this [past] weekend, a flock of about 200 robins flew overhead with at least 50 or more landing on the grass and in the trees. On Sunday, this week, there was a male white-winged crossbill sitting in a branch of a maple tree near our patio. Also, bluebirds have been sporadic visitors to our birdhouses this winter. Have seen as many as six at one time.

— Lorraine, West Benningnton, Vt.

Crossbills are always exciting, especially so if you get a good look at their bills. If they were captive birds, like a parakeet or canary, they would need a bill trimming. Such is not the case with these birds that are adapted for extracting seeds from cones. I have not seen them often in recent years, probably because I don't get out as often. The stocky white-winged crossbill with black wings and white wing bars or patches was first found breeding (feeding its young) in Windsor, Mass., on Feb. 22, 2001. Unlike most other species, crossbills are apparently dependent on coniferous cone production for successful breeding. My first sighting of white-wings was at the Moran Wildlife Management Area was in January 1985.

When I first saw a flock red crossbills in 1973 on Pecks Road in Pittsfield, I first mistook them for pine grosbeaks. The flock was both in the road, where I had previously seen grosbeaks, and in trees. With no markings on their wings, it did confuse me for a minute. This northerner has been seen in The Berkshires every month of the year, but as far as I know, never found breeding here.

As far as robins are concerned, they are no longer "harbingers of spring," being seen in flocks much of the winter. Two hundred is a large flock, although they have been known to often exceed that number, although I have never seen more than around 50 in a single flock. It must have been exciting.

Until I did some research when a reader mentioned a few bluebirds going in a nesting box one winter, I had no idea they sometimes bundle up in said boxes in cold, inclement weather. A few years ago, I made a slightly larger bluebird wintering box with a little larger opening, although I have not yet seen it used. For directions: or do a search for "winter bluebird box."


Berkshire Natural Resources Council has been preserving and keeping land in the Berkshires for 50 years. Join them on a winter hike. To learn more, go to


What is it? A system of trails that connects all of the Berkshires, creating a web, sewing towns and trails together. Why? To connect nature and people. To link conservation lands to each other for wildlife, clean water, and unspoiled views. To open trails for lunchtime walkers and holiday hikers alike. So you don't have to get back into your car to go find a place to dine, get a cup of hot coffee, or spend the night if you wish. Watch the video:

Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201


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