Migrating Birds Need Food
We are now in the middle of winter, a time when the wildlife food supply is at it's lowest. Much of the seed and berries on both wild and garden plants has already been consumed, and the birds in town become much more dependent on our feeders. If you have started feeding the birds you continue providing food at least through the end of February when the first growth of spring begins and the insects reappear. I keep my feeders full year around not because the birds need the extra food in the summer but rather so I can enjoy seeing them around our home. Bird feeding can be as simple as sprinkling seed on the ground or using either a homemade feeder or any of the excellent feeders available in our local stores.
No matter what style of feeding station you wish to provide, there are some general guidelines that should be followed:
- Place your feeder near trees or shrubbery so that the birds will have cover close by that they can retreat to if they feel they are in danger from predators which can include hawks and cats.
- Keep feeders made of plastic, ceramic or glass clean by occasionally washing them with hot, soapy water fortified with a capful or two of chlorine bleach. Use the same regimen with wood feeders, but substitute another disinfectant for the bleach so your wood won't fade.
- Rake or sweep up the seed hulls beneath the feeders once a week to prevent the potential spread of diseases like salmonella which can grow in moldy, wet seed and bird droppings in your feeder tray and on the ground below.
- It's a good idea to move your feeders (just a foot or so) each season to give the ground underneath time to assimilate the seed debris and bird droppings.
There are many different types of feed available. The most common is a blend of various seeds and grains, including sunflower seeds, which will attract a variety of birds. More specialized foods include black oil sunflower seeds that attract many species but are especially relished by finches and chickadees, or the nyger seed favored by members of the finch family including Pine Siskins and goldfinches. Nyger seed comes from a thistle grown in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia and has been treated to prevent it from germinating, so that it will never become a problem weed.
Birds will readily consume beef suet for the extra protein and fats that help maintain their body temperatures during cold weather when insects are hard to find, and an added bonus of providing suet is that it will attract species that don't eat seeds, such as:
Suet is available in preformed blocks or if you can find a local source of raw suet you can use it in the chunks it comes in our melt it and cast your own blocks. The traditional suet feeder is a small wire cage, which may be placed on the trunk of a tree or suspended from a limb; a nylon mesh bag will also work. Either raw or prepared suet can be used in these feeders. Soft suet mixtures may be spread on tree trunks or smeared onto pine cones that then may be hung from branches with strings.
Starlings are particularly fond of suet. To discourage them, use a cage that is covered on all sides but the bottom, so that the only birds that will eat the suet will be those that can hang upside down while feeding (this is not a problem for chickadees and woodpeckers, but it gives starlings the fits).
Observing Feeding Birds
Whatever type of feeder or feed you decide to use place them where you can easily observe the birds from the comfort of your home and enjoy the wide variety of birds that will be attracted to your yard.