Judy Hoysak is the brand manager of Perky Pet Birdfeeders, one of the oldest and largest bird feeding companies in the world. Judy’s here to help listeners learn how to bring more birds into their garden and make it bird-friendly habitat.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I work with PerkyPets which is one of the world’s oldest and largest bird feeding companies. We have a huge selection of bird feeders, everything from hummingbird feeders and nectar feeders to seed feeders. We supply most retailers that you go to, most feeders that you see in the stores are one of our Perky Pet birdfeeders. I came into the business because I had a passion for the products and the outdoors and I had a real passion for birds, I’m an avid birder, it brought all of my interests together.
I love my job, i love to talk about birds, and I love to encourage and to get other people out there to get excited to feed birds.
Have you been to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania?
Yes, we are actually really close to Hawk Mountain and we have actually done some sponsorships events over there. It’s a fantastic group, one of my very favorite places in the world. I went up there during the migration last fall, just really amazing i think they saw like 10,000 hawks that flew over that day, one of the biggest days of the season.
Evidently it was a very sacred Native American mountain, because of this really unique geography where as the hawks were flying through they are funneled through this area, its an absolutely beautiful place.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
I grew up originally I’m from North Carolina, grew up in the suburbs, and was very ambivalent about the outdoors, everyone had a yard and a garden. I was living in Brooklyn, I went to NY after I graduated my undergrad, I was just starved for nature, and I was obsessed with nature. My apartment started to resemble a jungle. I went and studied product design in NY and I was completely obsessed with this idea of my starvation with nature, I focused my masters theses on products that allowed people to interact with nature, so I created this kooky furniture line that allowed you to grow vegetables in your coffee table and and room deviders with beams? I was doing weird hydroponic experiments inside, just really fun experiments really wishing I had some outdoor space that I could get out there and garden anywhere I could possibly try to grow some vegetables I was trying.
Now i live in rural Pennsylvania I have a yard and a garden. I’m actually digging in the dirt and growing some vegetables. It was something that was really missing from my life and essential to my character.
I went to Pratt Institute! The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is also very inspirational.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
I am lucky to live in rural PA, we have Amish farms, and very, very many local farms in this area, I am very very fortunate, and just about everything I eat is from Lancaster County. I try to really get outside that mass produced food system, I prefer the freshness and taste of things that were grown locally, when you grow them yourself, you get so much more, you can eat a bean that was grown just a 10 seconds ago! Tastes so much better then even something picked yesterday! And this area too, it’s not necessarily a lot of the farms are certified organic, but they say they don’t spray or they are using minimum pesticides and keeping things as natural as possible because that’s the old way they have always done it, as long as your doing things in a pesticide free way, I’m happy to participate in that.
What can I do to attract more birds to my garden?
One of the great things about having a little garden is being able to enjoy the wildlife and birds and bees and butterflies that come out there. A lot of times you can put a lot of different plants and things there that will naturally attract them, that really easy and fun to do but sometimes you want to do a little bit more.
One of the great ways to doing that is by adding bird feeders to the yard and giving them another natural food source. There’s lots of different types of bird feeders out there. It’s a pretty simple concept, it doesn’t have to get overly complicated. Seed feeders to attract the seed-eating birds and nectar feeders to attract hummingbirds and different orioles and birds like that.
They are also attracted to water in the yard, you might want to provide a water source. They are attracted to moving water, so maybe not necessarily a stagnant bird bath. I have a little contraption called a wiggler in there and if you have a fountain the sound attracts them also.
Also providing them a bit of shelter, making sure you have some shrubs and bushes, even downed trees and branches, just giving them a place of refuge in case a some bigger birds or a predator flies by.
Do you want to explain the difference between Seed Feeders vs Nectar Feeders?
Seed Feeders vs Nectar Feeders.
Seed feeders hold bird seed. There’s dozens of different kinds of bird seed you could put in a feeder, and dozens of shapes of feeders you could possibly put it in.
Probably one of the most common would be your standard tube feeder, a cylinder with several ports, a lid and a way to hook it to a tree. It’s an easy entry into bird feeding, they come in a variety of colors and materials and a wide range of price points, a simple tube feeder, is a great place to start.
If you’re curious about what kind of seeds to put in there, I know there’s different bags of sometimes it looks like trail mix, a huge variety of bird seed can be intimidating.
A good place to start just look for a bag of black oil sunflower seeds, it’s non-expensive & one of the most common variety and widely eaten. Most birds will enjoy that, it’s high fat and protein content and what they are looking for.
Don’t necessarily go for the very cheapest cheapest because you end up with a lot of filler the birds are going to kick out anyway. Your going to attract most wide variety of birds with that.
You do get a lot of volunteers with the black oil sunflower seeds. That’s a common question I get a lot is how do I prevent all of these seeds from sprouting underneath my feeder or around my yard.
Well, I live in tiny downtown Lancaster and I have only a a tiny little pocket, what I call a pocket garden, you know little row houses, unlike a nice Montana farm, so my back garden is really only 10’x20′ so i have a lot of birdseed everywhere and so im trying to do a lot in that small space, including have a little patio and grow a few vegetables and some flowers And a little 4×8 spot of grass for my dog to roll around. So what happens is underneath the feeders you get a huge amount of seeds and sprouts coming up and its a common complaint for those who have it over located just off their patio or in a place thats not really desirable. So I switched to a sunflowers hearts mix. It’s pre-shelled, called a no-waste mix, once the husk is gone there’s nothing in there to sprout. Theres also some Organic pre-emergent types of weed controllers. We have one called Safer concern – all organic n omri listed. I think they make it out of a corn-gluten so it reacts with the seeds and prevents them from sprouting in the first place. Its great to use in the garden cause its safe for pets or children or birds, if the birds eat it it totally doesnt effect them in anyway. So that’s another great way to keep your bird-feeding area neat.
So what would you recommend people to do to attract more birds into their garden?
So we talked about the seed feeding birds but we could talk a little bit about hummingbirds.
Yes its just Sugar water, put in a plastic or glass container, we call ports where the humingbirds can come and either have perches or not have perches. But hummingbirds are really amazing birds their wings beat like 80 times a second and they fly these huge distances and they use so much energy so fast that basically they have to keep eating constantly or theyll just starve to death and die which is sometimes how I feel during the day, but not quite as bad as a hummingbird. In fact, even to go to sleep during the night, they have to almost go into this hibernation state because they can’t sleep long enough or they’ll starve. They do eat a lot of bugs and insects etc for protein, they do need flower nectar for the carbohydrate energy. So if you put up these nectar feeders, with the sugar water feeders they come and they love it. So hanging up the nectar feeders, is a really fun way.
They don’t have to be red, the nectar doesnt have to be red, if it’s a bright color, if its your first time hanging one, and you want to attract them to your garden they’ll pretty much notice any bright color. They usually remember the location more then they have a color preference, so once you get them attracted to the yard they’ll actually come back you’ll see the same ones come back each year. They have an amazing memory for the flower patches, most are migratory from Central and South America up to Canada the same birds will stop at the same places along that journey so they’re pretty incredible.
Are there certain kind of plants attract hummingbirds?
Oh, yeah, well that’s their natural food source, so any kind of brightly colored flowers, trumpet shaped flowers so Azaleas are one of their favorites they really like, butterfly bushes, lantanna, bea balm, coral bells, fuscia, lots of different species of salvia. That’s one of the easiest ways to bring them especially initially if they see a backyard full of beautiful nectar filled flowers that will surely attract their attention.
And you just want to make sure as you’re doing this to be careful about what your putting- i mean most of your listeners are concerned with organic products and not using a lot of pesticides and chemicals back therebut if you are doing this to attract wildlife you want to be just extra careful because anything that you are putting out there in the garden, its possible that these birds could be ingesting, and you wouldn’t want to put anything back there if you have these birds back there that you wouldnt want to eat yourself and that you are a lot larger then a tiny little hummingbird so you just want to be super conscious when you’re attracting wildlife.
Do hummingbird feeders have to be red?
As long as the feeder … If it’s the first time you’re hanging the feeder, we generally recommend you choose a brighter color feeder if it’s a bright feeder. Birds are attracted to bright colors cause it looks like the bright colors of the garden. But we sell clear glass feeders and you can put your clear sugar water in there because as I mentioned they just remember the position in particular.
I think if you put a plate of sugar water without the feeder, I think your gonna have a lot of problems with pests, and I could get into that. We get a lot of questions about – How do we keep the ants away from the feeder, how do we keep the bees away? We have a few products for keeping the ants away. We call them ant moats, and you fill them with water and hang them above the feeder. The ants can’t swim so they can’t cross the moat to get down to the nectar. We also have feeders with bee guards, which is basically a little plastic guard that goes over the port, so it extends the distance between the port and the nectar. So like a hummingbirds tongue is like a couple of inches long and a bee’s tongue is only 8-10 millimeter’s long. So if you’re increasing the amount of distance between the access point and the level of sugar water. We recommend hanging another feeder, with a higher concentration of sugar nectar for the bees. All the bees will flock to that one, and the hummingbirds feel like that’s a little too sweet.
When should I hang my hummingbird feeder?
In most areas of the country we only have migratory species of hummingbirds. There’s a few places around the Pacific Northwest and California, and even into British Columbia that have hummingbirds that overwinter. For the most part we have about 13 different species in the United States and they are migratory. They come up in the spring from Central and South America. They travel and follow the flowers as they are migrating, and they need to keep eating, cause if they don’t eat for like 5 minutes they’ll just keel over. So they follow the flowers up. They go up north all the way into Canada. They stay there for the summer and have their babies and then come back down. Every year is different, it depends on the weather a lot. So if it’s a warm spring you might get the hummingbirds a lot earlier. Early spring you start hanging up your feeders.
On our website birdfeeders.com we actually have a migration map. As people see birds in their area they’ll post on the map, once there’s sitings, it’s actually fun to watch. And you can see where they’re getting on the map! It’s neat to see their getting closer.
Leave it up during the summer. Don’t worry about leaving it up.
Will the birds stay and not migrate over the winter if I leave the feeder up? No, it’s really instinctual you’re not going to prevent them from migrating, if you leave it up an extra week or so. And if you’re in one of those places where you have them all year round, definitely leave it up all year, if it’s cold, you may want to bring it in at night because it might freeze during the night, you’ll continue to see them all year long. Surprisingly it’s more like places in the Pacific Northwest where it’s more temperate, also in the gulf area you’ll see more. Some individuals might not make it all the way, and might think Southern Texas is good enough for me.
Have you seen the movie the Big Year?
What steps can I take to make sure my garden is safe for birds?
I kind of hit on some of these tips, make sure what you’re putting on your plants, and your garden and yard, so just make sure you’re putting nice safe things if you’re putting anything out there, so your birds stay safe.
Outside cats, put a bell on your cat, to give the birds a heads up. I have a cat, he’s pretty fast, he’s sneaky. There’s the whole neighbor thing, see if you can get your neighbor to put a bell on their cat too.
Window strikes is another big one, it’s when the windows look really reflective. They don’t understand glass, they can see their reflection, and it can either look like a nice open place to fly if it’s just reflecting the sky, and they can just fly into it and knock themselves out or kill themselves. Or sometimes they’ll see their own reflection, particularly with territorial males, they’ll actually think it’s another bird, and they will try to fight it and will repeatedly fly into the window trying to attack it’s reflection, and will knock itself out and stun itself or even die which is sad. You can put up window decals, they’re clear, but they are ultraviolet, so they’re discernible to humans, but it really breaks up the reflection. Sometimes they think its the sky.
Tell us about your garden and something that grew well this year.
One thing I got really excited about last year, I was saying I grew up in the south, my family isn’t deep rooted but I do have friends that have a lot of ties to the south. They eat all these different peas and beans in the south, there are so many peas beyond that, the most common would be lima beans, but there are all these different varieties. I grew a Native American bean, a pole bean, I think it was called eye-of-the-goat bean, this heirloom bean, and it was like the most deliciouls bean! I was eating them fresh, or lightly boiled with olive oil and garlic and dried a lot of them, in the shells, and then shelled them after they were dried and kept a jar around and ate them through the winter. Doing them again this year.
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
A little bit obscure, I have a strong love of sushi, sometimes when you get a sushi plate you get a little green lead there, a Japanese herb called Shiso. I’ve been completely obsessed with these little green leaves. They have green ones, grown as a common ornamental called Perilla I think is the more American name. I made like pestos out of it, you can eat it with sashimi, you can make pickles so I’ve been doing a lot of fun things with this new herb! I started from seed in those little jiffy pots and then planted it into the main part of my garden.
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
I got overly ambitious and I planted so many vegetables, cause you know when you first start gardening, and everything’s tiny and you think I have plenty of room here. I have okra intertwined with my roses, and my eggplant is dwarfing my hydrangeas, so this year I had to learn to hold back a little bit.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
No, I love every bit of it.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
Weeding. I could sit there an weed for hours. I find it peaceful, meditative, I will sit there and pick out every last weed, I love it!
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
Don’t be afraid to experiment, if something doesn’t work and dies, don’t be discouraged, just keep trying.
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.
I like my little gardening knee pads a lot, there are the ones that strap on, and are easy to move around and they make you look kinda funny which I like too.
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
Dehydrating the beans, I just dried them, I left them to dry on the vine, til they get brown, then when they are totally dry, then I just shelled them out of the pods and put them in a jar.
I did get into the whole canning thing, I just tried to learn the water bath canning and I did freeze some things. I kind of decided, where I live in an area, where I am not going to have to worry about losing electricity during the winter and I just like the taste of the fresher preserved things. So I think I’m just gonna freeze more vegetables, or freeze the pestos. Because once you have to add the amount of acid, it changes the flavor so much. I also like more of the fermented pickling, so that’s my next endeavor.
To listen to Theresa Loe discuss healthier pickles check out her Living Homegrown Podcast here.
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
Nothing off hand, I love fresh things. I love vegetables. I just find if you have fresh things you don’t have to do a lot to it.
A favorite internet resource?
The Rodales Facebook feed has been fascinating lately. Just everything they’ve been posting is just super interesting.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
Often interested in what kind of bird did I see in my garden. They have a new app, where you can upload a bird through merlin and it will tell you what it is! It’s like the coolest thing ever!
There’s lots of cool apps!
Peterson’s field guide, once you get into your garden and you’re like what kind of bird is that? I started off with a Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds. To this day it’s one of my favorite resources. It has illustrations. And asks are you in the right place to see it? Are you in the right range? So I have apps when, I’m out in my garden, I use a lot.
Cornell has some great ones. Particularly if your new to birding, the merlin app Is just phenomenal!
I heard about a team in the United Kingdom where you could play a recording of a bird song and it would identify the bird, like Shazaam app for birds!
What can I do about squirrels at my bird feeders?
People always want to know what can I do about squirrels at my bird feeders. You always want to make sure your hanging it right. If you are hanging it, hang it 10 feet away from any place they can jump, and 6 feet off the ground. If you have a smaller space this can be tricky. There are baffells, that is like a plastic dome that hangs over the top of the feeder, if they land on it, they just kind of topple over. There’s also a baffle, that you can put on the pole, if you have a shepard’s hook, you can attach this dome atop the pole that can keep them from crawling up underneath.
What’s a shepard’s hook?
Imagine it would be like a cartoon image, holding that crook shaped pole.
There are special bird feeder poles you can buy. Just a black metal rod iron pole with some arms sticking out of the side, is another common way that people are hanging their feeders.
We also have what are called squirrel proof feeders, there are a lot of different ways those work, one of the common ways is weight activation, it might have an inner and outer cage around the tube, and if they jump on it, the cage slides down so they can’t access the feed.
There’s also a seed in particular that they don’t prefer – safflower, it’s a little more bitter, I understand, I do think I get less squirrels with the safflower.
Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
That’s a good one. I would like to see people get outside their areas a little bit more. I think what happens we lose empathy in people, because most people aren’t bad or selfish, but we get caught up in our life and don’t see our impact, and you don’t understand how much more of the world that there is, the internet is a great way, for people to have gotten more connected but just to understand that you are just one part of a bigger system and that everything you do matters, and that we all matter.
Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
One thing that I find among those that are new to bird-feeding, the day that you see a new visitor come to your garden, is like the most exciting thing that has happened to you all day! You see this new bird to your feeder, you tell all your friends, and you try to figure out what it is. By inviting this wildlife into your garden and your home and your life, you’re adding a lot of excitement that wasn’t there to just your everyday living!
How do we connect with you?
Visit our website birdfeeders.com
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