Droll Yankees Founder Peter Kilham was born in September 1906 and passed away in March 1992. As his son Larry Kilham describes in his 2018 book, The Perfectionist: Peter Kilham and the Birds, Peter had a passion for creating products that he believed people would deeply enjoy. This month, we’re celebrating his legacy and contributions in wild bird feeding, including dozens of patented innovations that changed the hobby forever.
A lifelong inventor and manufacturer by trade, Peter Kilham founded Droll Yankees as an unconventional record company in 1960. In the tranquil woods and along the idyllic shores of Rhode Island, he recorded the natural sounds of his childhood: melodic bird songs, soothing ocean waves and spoken Yankee lore. His educational birdsong albums were even praised by the Audubon Society and even enjoyed by the likes of President John F. Kennedy.
See also: A Brief History of Bird Feeding
All the time spent in the woods got Peter thinking about the birds he interacted with. The bird feeder hanging outside his home was typical of the era. It was a wooden log with holes troweled into it to hold suet. It was tough to keep stocked, difficult to clean, and far from pleasing to look at. The birds weren’t satisfied with it, and neither was Peter.
He realized that a greater variety of interesting birds preferred seed over suet. Peter wanted a way to deliver a lot of bird seed efficiently—without spillage—and allow birds to see what’s inside the feeder. He also knew that bird feeders need to be clean. Illness is easily spread among birds that visit dirty feeders.
The inventor meticulously began sketching bird feeder designs by hand: Clear plastic tubing for a huge seed capacity, sturdy, removable metal ports for easy cleaning, and a durable metal top to keep squirrels out. It was the world’s first tubular bird feeder: the classic A-6F.
The National Audubon Society, familiar with Peter’s bird song records, was one of his first bird feeder customers. The group’s bird experts pronounced the feeders technically sound and bird-friendly. Their enthusiastic endorsement was priceless. Peter quickly expanded Droll Yankees’ production capacity and continued to patent innovations in wild bird feeding well into old age.
With Peter’s passing in 1992, he left Droll Yankees to his employees, who continue to embody the Yankee spirit today. Droll Yankees bird feeders are designed in the United States and assembled in Connecticut, not far from where Peter originally developed the Classic A-6F bird feeder.
Peter and his beloved wife Dorothy (who Dorothy’s Cardinal Feeder is named for) realized one day that by attaching an old vinyl record to the top of a bird feeder, they could keep squirrels out. This was the precursor for Peter’s original squirrel baffle design.