Richville man busy making, distributing feeders

As one travels down to the end of Hackberry Point Road is the home of Dick and Bonnie Swanson. They built on the peninsula property that Bonnie’s grandparents homesteaded back in 1897. The land between the water of Dead Lake, near Richville, Minn., has been the residence of the Swanson’s since 1996.

Dick Swanson in his shop near Richville making oriole feeders. Contributed photo

Dick retired after 44 years as an educator in North Dakota and crop adjuster across western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. Now, in his retirement years, he is busy creating and crafting oriole feeders in his shop near the shores of Dead Lake. He said that his goal is to make the lake the “go to” destination for oriole feeding in Minnesota.

To that end he has been making his oriole feeders in batches of 30 at Hackberry Point Farm. He said that he takes mostly recycled materials and turns them into the feeders that can brighten up the lives of others.

He reported that at a recent Dead Lake Association meeting, many of the feeders sold for the $20 suggested price. Though many are sold to raise funds for local charities, Dick said that the goal is to get the feeders into the hands of those who want to be apart of feeding orioles.

All the proceeds of any sales of the oriole feeders go to charity. One local charity that is supported, Rudolph’s Closet, supplies gifts for children during the holiday season.  Last year about 135 young children were on hand to chose gifts at the annual event.

Back in the shop, Dick, who was once awarded Outstanding Biology Teacher in the state of North Dakota, was at work showcasing the steps necessary to complete his next set of 30 oriole feeders. With his relaxed demeanor he explained thoughtfully how he takes old tin cat food cans, pie plates or cake pans that he salvages from thrift stores and turns them into the useful feeders that can bring in the orioles into view, with maybe a little joy as well.

The idea was hatched at the Methodist Church in Dent, Minn., when Swanson designed his first feeder for Liz Soderstrom.  That encounter would prove crucial in planting the seeds that would set him on the course he is on now. That was 25 years ago and even now, the oriole feeder production project seems it has also brought with it hope and purpose for many along the way.

This time of year, late November, at the land between Dead Lake, the Swansons have other feeders out as well. Now that they are on the other side of 60 years of marriage, the couple reported that they often find the time sit in their sun porch to watch the squirrels, chickadee and white-tailed deer arrive to munch on the corn that they provide their furry friends in the long winter months. This time of year, the otherwise freezing peninsula is alive with activity as the red squirrels scurry about the yard and the does arrive with their fawns to avoid their blaze orange adversaries.

Dick salvaged an old steel wheel wagon near the hog barn to use as a feeding station. With a new platform to mount feeders of various sizes and shapes the old wagon has a new place on the farm.

“I guess you could say, we have a lot of low-cost entertainment,” Dick said.

The squirrel and bird feeder Dick built from an old steel wheel wagon that sits near the Swanson home on Hackberry Point.
Photo by Eric Bervig

But when it finally comes back to spring the Swansons’ said that they will be on the lookout for their favorite winged friends to appear back to Hackberry Point. The hint of the first orange and black signals the start of spring, which is always a welcome sight. The Swansons said that while other options may suffice, after years of study an ample supply of grape jelly is the key to a successful oriole feeding station.

“We always have to have a case of grape jelly on hand,” Bonnie said.

She stated that the Swanson family usually put their brightly colored feeders out in the middle of April to ensure that the orioles that begin to arrive back to the Richville area will have ample supply of sweet treats until well into September. With the shores of Dead Lake lined with feeders filled with jelly next year could certainly see the woods between the lake springing back to life again.

Recently, Dick began working on a project for birds of a different feather. The octogenarian points to a large telephone pole that was recently replaced in Dent.

The pole sits on a trailer as Swanson builds an osprey nesting platform in his shop.

This latest project will again see Swanson recycle an unwanted item and turn it into a useful help for wildlife at Hackberry Point. The osprey nest is destined for tip of the peninsula, where, if plans proceed as planned, a new family of ospreys could lay claim to as early as next spring – when the land between the lake will be prepared for some new arrivals.