Every January the wild bird industry convenes in Atlanta for BirdWatch America, a trade show where manufacturers gather to show off their wares for retailers.
This year several new products caught my eye. Watch for them at your favorite wild bird store or nature center in the coming months.
Thomas Wildbird Feeders ( 2930 Pine Avenue, Suite 773, Niagara Falls, NY 14301; 905-727-3110) has come out with a line of feeders made from recycled plastic (milk jugs) and stainless steel hardware. This material has been used by others, but Thomas's workmanship is unmatched.
The manufacturer has so much confidence in these feeders they are guaranteed for life. Thomas also carries German-made concrete/wood chip nest boxes that are virtually indestructible.
Automated feeder: The Bird Bistro (Sweeney Enterprises, 321 Waring-Welfare Road, Boerne, Texas, 78006; 800-443-4244; www.sweeneyfeeders.com) is made by a company that has been making automated wildlife feeders for years.
If you're frustrated by birds eating food all day long while you're at work, consider the Bird Bistro. A rechargeable battery and a timer allow you to dispense food up to eight times a day. It's a great way to insure food is available at dawn and dusk regardless of weather.
This feeder is simply a large bin that drops seed onto a covered tray at up to eight programmable intervals. It's made of galvanized, rustproof metal and comes with a three-year warranty. On the downside, it's pricey -- $225. An optional solar powered battery charger to insure the battery is always charged is available for $85.
Ramphastos is best known for its YardBirds software, but now it has another innovative birding product, the Orbitor Nature Observing and Recording Dish ($79.95).
Despite the cumbersome name, the Orbitor is a nifty device for those who want a head start on hearing and learning natural sounds. Point the Orbitor at a singing bird or croaking frog, pull the trigger, and hear the amplified sound in the included headphones. It also includes a 12-second digital recorder, "Feeder Birds" software, and a marginal 8x optical scope. But this is primarily a listening device, binoculars for your ears.
Squirrel proof: The Squirrel Buster II ($59.95; Brome Direct, P.O. Box 64, Knowlton, Quebec, Canada J0E 1V0; www.squirrelbuster.com) is a clever, large capacity, squirrel-proof tube feeder.
Openings in the weight-sensitive bottom shroud of the feeder align with the seed ports. Light-weight birds have easy access to the food, but heavier birds and squirrels force down the shroud and close access to the seed ports. Squirrels are frustrated, but unharmed.
Vari-Crafts' Bouncer ($79.95; 210 Kings Highway, Landing, NJ 07850; www.vari-crafts.com) is another ingenious squirrel proof tube feeder. Any visitor larger than a cardinal causes the perches to collapse and disappear into the base. Large birds and squirrels are out of luck.
Remember, these new products may not be available for a few months, so check with your favorite wild bird store periodically.
hat I enjoy even more than seeing new products at BirdWatch America is the chance to swap tales with old friends.
Funny tale: This year Vic Fasino, the owner of Vari-Crafts, had a dandy. Several years ago Vari-Crafts came out with the "En-Joy-Em Squirrel Feeder." It requires a squirrel to perch on a tray and pull a lever to release a few pieces of food from the attached tube.
It's an entertaining feeder that capitalizes on the intelligence, persistence, and ingenuity of squirrels. Normally it takes squirrels about two weeks to figure this out.
When I greeted Vic this year, he said, "Scott, I've got a story you'll love." Recently Vic got a letter from an unhappy customer. He complained that his new feeder just required too much work. "I've got to go outside every 15 minutes and pull that lever to get food onto the tray," he wrote. "There must be a better way."
Weeks later, when Vic stopped laughing, he replied to the customer and gently explained that this particular feeder was intended for squirrels, and that they would eventually learn to pull the lever. He hasn't heard from the guy since.