Bird Feeding with George Petrides
Tips on attracting and feeding backyard birds.
Sharing ideas and topics related to feeding and attracting wild birds in your backyard.
February can be one of the toughest winter months for birds as remaining wild seed and other food supplies continue to diminish. If you have feeders up its a good time to make sure they stay filled. Here are a few comments from the National Bird-Feeding Society on perhaps why so many people enjoy feeding and watching birds.
Keep the peace - Avoid overcrowding by putting feeders at different heights to resemble birds' natural feeding environment. Serve sparrows, juncos and mourning doves from a tray elevated just above the ground. Woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, finches and redpolls, accustomed to eating among trees in the wild, prefer feeders four to six feet off the ground. Jays and cardinals like surfaces large enough to stand on while they eat.
Among most birds, the sense of smell is poorly developed, so they find their food by sight. No other living animals can match the visual acuity of birds.
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The eye of a bird is extremely large by mammalian standards. Though they look relatively small, hidden behind their lids and protective rings of overlapping bone, birds’ eyes are enormous. This is because the image must be big and have sharp details so that they can locate their food while flying. Imagine the extraordinary vision needed by a hawk cruising over a meadow in search of a mouse, a loon in pursuit of its underwater prey, a hummingbird gleaning a minuscule insect near a trumpet vine, and a titmouse searching for a source of black oil sunflower seeds – amazing!
Despite the cold weather in many parts of the country spring is not too far away. Purple Martin Scouts will start arriving in Florida and Texas sometime in January. The Purple Martin Conservation Association hosts a Scout Arrival map. Check it on a regular basis to determine when scouts start arriving in your area. Martin houses should be up a couple of weeks before the expected arrival of the martins in your area.
Winter can be a dangerous time in the backyard. Leaves are off the trees, making roosting spots much more visible to predators. Wind, heavy rain and snow take turns making the local environment inhospitable to birds and other small creatures. This is a time of testing for our wild friends.
A simple brush pile can help make our yards a little safer during this harsh time of year. It’s simple to create, doesn’t require a major investment of time or materials, and can provide safe haven for birds, bugs, and bunnies, among others. The birds can hide from cats and hawks, stay warmer and dryer in snowstorms, and even find a snack in the decaying wood.
Pick an acceptable spot in your yard, someplace that won’t be a visual or physical stumbling point for people. To be of best use to birds, you want to create a kind of thicket, with dense cover on the outside and more open spaces on the inside. You can start as you would to build a campfire, creating a teepee of dead wood. Then pile on branches pruned from shrubs and trees, twigs dropped by wind and storms, even leftover greenery from the holidays. Christmas trees can have a whole new life tucked in a corner of your yard where the birds can hind.
So start 2018 doing some creative brush pile building (a great outdoor activity for children, too) for your birds.
Wild bird specialty stores and other outlets carry many varieties of birdseed: black-oil sunflower, peanuts, Nyjer, millet and others. They also carry seed blends with varying characteristics which influence their entertainment value for you.
Male Northern Cardinal. Photograph © Nic Allen
We believe that the bird-feeding public mostly feeds birds because you enjoy seeing them, and that you prefer feeding small and colorful birds (e.g. chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches, titmice and woodpeckers) over grackles and squirrels.
One seed type which gets lots of attention these days is safflower, a small, whitish, plump seed with very little shell. If you are frustrated with European Starlings, Common Grackles or squirrels at your feeders, safflower has the potential to make you happier. They don’t like safflower much and tend to stay away from it, while titmice, chickadees and cardinals usually learn to like it.
Note: Safflower doesn’t belong in most blends because the problem-solving properties of safflower are negated. When added to a seed blend, unwanted visitors will simply find other seeds or nuts to enjoy. Plus, there are less expensive seeds that are more desirable than safflower to the birds you prefer to see at your feeders. So as an ingredient in a seed blend, safflower neither increases visits from more desirable birds, nor decreases visits from “black birds” or squirrels. It may actually add cost, but not value.
Chickadee on hopper feeder with suet holders on the end.
A high-quality birdseed blend should contain black-oil sunflower or hulled sunflower (as the first ingredient listed). Other quality ingredients are black-stripe sunflower, white proso millet and some forms of nutmeat, such as peanut (pieces). Always read the ingredient s list before buying a seed blend and avoid those that don’t list some form of oil sunflower as the primary ingredient. You should also avoid blends that contain filler products such as milo, wheat, oats, rice, flax, canary seed or “mixed grain products.” These seeds only add weight and actually diminish the blend’s attractiveness. They may decrease the cost per pound of seed, but they will increase your cost per bird visit!