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 For The Birds  


No matter where you live, you can put food outside your door, and some critters, feathered or furred, will show its appreciation and make an appearance. That's all it takes. Once you get started, it's hard to stop.

Before you know it, you're learning bird names. After awhile, you'll start to recognize their pretty songs they sing you.

When you get to the point where you want to attract and "keep" a particular species, what you do will be determined by where you live, and the time of year. For example, on any winter day, you're likely to see a cardinal at a sunflower feeder in Wisconsin, a goldfinch at a thistle feeder in Massachusetts and hummingbirds at a nectar feeder in southern California.

How can you find out which birds to expect? A bird field identification book has pictures of different birds and will help you find the names for the birds you're likely to see.

The species you attract is determined primarily by the seeds you offer.

Black oil sunflower is the hands-down favorite of all the birds that visit tube and house type feeders. White proso millet is favored by birds who visit platform feeders (doves and sparrows). Ducks, geese and quail will eat corn.

Many of the cereal grains (corn, milo, oats, canary, wheat, rape, flax and buckwheat) in mixed bird seeds are NOT favorites of birds that visit tube feeders.

Watch a feeder filled with a seed mix and you'll see the birds methodically drop or kick out most of the seeds to get to their favorite seeds. Birds will also kick out artificial "berry" pellets, processed seed flavored and colored to look like "real" fruit.

Seeds that wind up on the ground are likely to be contaminated by dampness and bird droppings. If the birds don't eat them, rodents will.

The most effective way to attract the largest variety of birds to your yard is to put out separate feeders for each food:

  • a suet feeder
  • a house feeder for sunflower
  • a bluebird feeder
  • a wire mesh cage feeder for peanuts
  • a nectar feeder
  • a tube feeder for thistle
  • a stationary or tray fruit feeder                                                                                      
  • a house or platform feeder for millet



   goldfinches                  chickadees
   woodpeckers                  nuthatches
   titmice                      redpolls, pine siskins

   cardinals                    jays
   crossbills                   purple finches
   white-throated sparrow       house finches
   white-crowned sparrows

   doves                        house sparrows
   blackbirds                   juncos
   cowbirds                     towhees
   white-throated sparrows      tree sparrows
   white-crowned sparrows       chipping sparrows

   starlings                    house sparrows
   grackles                     jays
   juncos                       bobwhite quail
   doves                        ring-necked pheasants
   white-throated sparrows

   cardinals                    chickadees
   grackles                     house finches
   titmice                      house sparrows
   sparrows                     starlings
   mourning doves               white-throated sparrows
   jays                         juncos

   goldfinches                  house finches
   purple finches               redpolls
   pine siskins                 doves
   chickadees                   song sparrows
   dark-eyed juncos             white-throated sparrows

   hummingbirds                 orioles
   cardinals                   tanagers
   woodpeckers                  finches

   orioles                      tanagers
   mockingbirds                 bluebirds
   thrashers                    cardinals
   woodpeckers                  jays
   starlings                    thrushes
   cedar waxwings               yellow-breasted chats                                   

   woodpeckers                  wrens
   chickadees                   nuthatches
   kinglets                     thrashers
   creepers                     cardinals

   woodpeckers                  goldfinches
   juncos                       cardinals
   thrushes                     jays
   kinglets                     bluebirds
   wrens                        starlings




When's the best time to start?

There is no best or worst time. Start whenever you want to. The birds can use your help in the very early spring and winter when their natural seed sources are scarce. In general, whenever the weather is severe, birds will appreciate a reliable supplemental food source.


Is it best to stop feeding hummingbirds after Labor Day?

There is no evidence that feeding hummingbirds after Labor Day will keep them from migrating. In fact, it may help a weakened straggler refuel for the long haul. Leave your nectar feeders out until the birds stop coming.

How long does it take for birds to find a feeder?

Sometimes it can seem like forever. It may take more time for birds to find window feeders than hanging or pole-mounted feeders. If you're impatient, start with a feeder full of hulled sunflower. If that doesn't get their attention, wrap aluminum foil around the top of the feeder hanger. Sometimes all it takes is the reflection of light on the foil to catch their attention.

My feeder is full of seeds. I haven't seen a bird in months. Am I doing something wrong?

When birds desert your feeder, it may be simply that a lot of natural food is available nearby. Or something may be wrong, such as your seeds are spoiled or your feeder contaminated. Throw the seeds away and wash the feeder. It could also be that your feeder ran dry and the birds went to find another feed supply.
Dont wory, fill the feeder and watch your feathered friends reapear.

Take a look at where your feeder is placed. Be sure it's not vulnerable to predators.

Won't birds' feet stick to metal feeders and perches in the wet winter weather?

Birds don't have sweat glands in their feet, so they won't freeze onto metal feeders. There's no need to cover any metal feeders parts with plastic or wood to protect birds feet, tongues or eyes.

Can birds choke on peanut butter?

There's no evidence that birds can choke on peanut butter. However, birds have no salivary glands. You can make it easier on them by mixing peanut butter with lard, cornmeal, and/or grit. Your birds will appreciate drinking water too -- a bird bath or trough.

Do wild birds need grit?

In the winter, you may see flocks of birds along roadsides after the snowplows have passed. They're after the grit. Birds have no teeth to grind their food. The dirt, sand, pebbles, and grit they eat sits in their crop and helps grind up their food. Adding grit to your feeder is helpful year-round, but particularly in the winter and spring. Crushed eggshells do the same thing, and in the spring have an added benefit. They provide extra calcium during nesting season.

Won't suet go "bad" in the summer?

In the winter, raw beef fat from the local butcher is all you need for your suet feeder. When temperatures rise, raw fat can melt, and get rancid. It's safer to use commercially rendered suet cakes in the spring and summer months. Rendering, boiling the fat, kills bacteria. And yes, it's okay to feed your woodpeckers year-round. They will visit your feeders all summer long, and they'll bring their babies.

What is hummingbird "nectar"? Do hummers need nectar fortified with vitamins and minerals?

Hummingbird nectar is nothing more than table sugar and water. You can make your own by adding 1/4 cup of sugar to a cup of boiling water. Hummers eat insects for their protein. There is no evidence that these tiny birds need vitamin and mineral supplements. There is also no evidence that adding red food coloring to nectar will harm the birds, but it probably is not necessary to attract them. Just put your feeder near red flowers. Please remember, sugar water will ferment when left in the hot sun. Fermented nectar is deadly. Do not put out a feeder if you are not willing to clean it at least weekly, preferably twice a week.

How can I avoid bees at my hummingbird feeder?

Bees are usually a problem only in hot weather. It's inevitable that bees will visit your hummingbird feeder. Little plastic bee guards may help keep them from getting nectar but it won't stop them from trying. Don't take the chance of contaminating your nectar by putting vegetable oil around the feeding portals. The safest solution is to add a few small feeders away from where people are likely to be bothered by bees.

How close to your window can you put a feeder?

Birds will come right to your window. Sometimes it takes a while for them to overcome their initial reluctance, so be patient. Don't worry that a feeder on the window will cause birds to fly into the window. Birds fly into the window because they see the reflection of the woods. Window feeders and decals can help break up the reflection.

If you find a bird that has hit a window, carefully pick it up and put it in a box or a large paper bag. Put it in a dark, quiet corner of your house for a couple of hours. If the bird recovers, take the box or bag outside and just let it go. If the bird comes to, but seems injured, call your local wildlife rehabilitation center for help.

I bought some cracked corn coated with a red dye. Is it safe to use?

The red or pink coating is capstan, a fungicide used on seeds meant for planting. If you buy a bag of cracked corn or other seed treated with capstan, return it to the store. It can kill horses, other mammals and wild birds.

I bought a bag of sunflower seeds early in the spring. Over the summer I noticed first worms, then moths. What can I do to keep the bugs out?

It's natural for moths to lay their eggs in sunflower seeds. The eggs lay dormant as long as the seeds are stored in a cool dry place. In the summer, seeds get hot and the eggs hatch.

The best way to avoid this problem is to buy seeds in smaller quantities, or store your seeds in a cool, dry place. It also helps to know where your retailer stores the seed. An air conditioned storage unit is the better choice.

Insects will also lay their eggs in burlap bags. Don't buy seeds in burlap bags. Don't buy seed in paper and plastic bags with patched holes. That may be a sign of insect or rodent infestations.


Suet Recipes                              

Soft Suet Medley

4 1/2 cups ground fresh suet
  3/4 cup dried and fine ground bakery goods
      (whole-wheat or cracked-wheat bread or crackers are best)
  1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
  1/4 cup millet
  1/4 cup dried and chopped fruit (currants, raisins, or berries)
  3/4 cup dried and fine ground meat (optional)
  1. Melt suet in a saucepan over low heat.
  2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Allow the suet to cool until slightly thickened, then stir it into the mixture in the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour or pack into forms or suet feeders; smear onto tree trunks or overhanging limbs and branches; or pack into pine cones

 Take some tips and get started.                                           

  You wont be sorry.