Well, it’s December, and it’s time for winter bird feeding.
I’m sure some of you feed year round, but feeding of wild birds increases substantially in the colder months. Feeding birds is a noble endeavor that helps birds stay energized when it’s cold — especially during extreme cold and toward the end of winter, when stores of natural food are depleted.
Will they die if you don’t do it? No. But it is a good thing. Can it be bad? Yes. When people feed birds bread and table scraps, it’s bad. It’s not good for their digestive tracts.
Now, many of you have probably been feeding birds for quite some time. For some of you this will be informative, but for some it will be old news.
Let’s get right to the food. I am not an expert at feeding birds, but I have plenty of experience and a pretty good knowledge of the subject. My favorite seeds for feeding birds are black oil sunflower seed, white proso millet and nyjer. I use those three more than anything else. The seed I like the least is milo. More on that later.
• The seed you need
The biggest mistake most people make when purchasing bird seed is looking for a large bag of seed for the cheapest price. Although it may seem you are getting the biggest bang for your buck, you are spending more for the seed you actually need.
Hey, I’m a frugal bargain hunter for sure, but bird seed is a different issue altogether. Is the answer to buy the expensive bags with titles like “Birdwatcher’s Blend”? Maybe, but I don’t. Often these bags are full of seed designed to attract birds you won’t see much in this area.
On some bags I buy, the brand touts that in addition to the birds I am trying to attract, it will attract birds that I would love to see but are rare or nonexistent in this area. Often, the seeds that don’t get eaten right away swell in the rain and become moldy. Mold is bad for birds.
About this time of year, I will go to a local department store and buy a 40-pound bag (about $17) of black oil sunflower seed and two or three 10-pound bags of a finch blend seed. Black oil sunflower seed is beloved by nearly all backyard birds — even the small ones. And watching a tufted titmouse hammer away to get to the delicious kernel inside is quite a funny sight!
The finch blend is loaded with white proso millet, and nearly all backyard birds will eat it. The kind of finch blend I buy is a mix of white proso millet, red millet, canary grass seed and what they call thistle seed, which is really nyjer. I mix it all together, and it usually lasts the winter. I also throw in a bag of cheaper seed mix, which includes cracked corn.
Experts will say that canary grass seed and red millet are worthless fillers. For me, the jury is still out on canary grass seed, but I do know many birds that visit my feeders will eat red millet. I have seen, and have many photos of, birds chowing down on it. Birds I’ve witnessed eating red millet are juncos, chickadees and pine siskins, just to name a few. Nyjer is a favorite of American goldfinches, house finches and purple finches.
Here is a list of bird species that visit my feeding stations, which use the previously mentioned seed each winter:
• Bobwhite quail
• Eastern towhee
• Northern cardinal
• Fox sparrow
• Tufted titmouse
• Carolina chickadee
• Pine siskin
• Spotted towhee
• Blue jay
• Downy woodpecker
• Red-bellied woodpecker
• White-winged dove
• Mourning dove
• American goldfinch
• Savannah sparrow
• Chipping sparrow
• White-crowned sparrow
• White-throated sparrow
• Harris’s sparrow
• Song sparrow
• Lincoln’s sparrow
• Dark-eyed junco
• House sparrow
• American crow
• White-breasted nuthatch
• Red-breasted nuthatch
• House finch
• Eurasian collared dove
• Brown thrasher
• Red-winged blackbird
• Northern flicker
• Carolina wren
• Bewick’s wren
• American robin
• Purple finch
That’s a pretty good list. There are a few other birds that visit that I don’t really care for, such as starlings, grackles and cowbirds. Cowbirds and starlings are invasive and harm other birds due to their nesting practices.
They can also be bullies at feeders, as can jays and crows. I do like jays to visit occasionally, as the sight of goldfinches, cardinals, house finches and blue jays all together creates quite a colorful spectacle, especially against a backdrop of snow.
Milo, be it red or white, is not very good. Many coveted feeder birds do not like milo. However, jays, crows and doves will eat it, but these are feeder bullies, so it should be kept to a minimum.
I have included several photos of seed to go along with this column. In one, titled “Cheap seed mix,” notice the large round, burnt orange seeds. That’s milo. It’s a big filler and often adds as much as 50 percent of weight to a bag of cheap seed.
Placement of feeders and feeding stations is up to you. It all depends on many factors. I have a couple of feeders which are hanging in the only places at my house where squirrels can’t reach them. This took a lot of trial and error!
And it’s not that I don’t like squirrels. I do. It’s just that they tend to jump on feeders and knock all the seed out. This a another reason I spread plenty of seed on the ground each day. In winter, squirrels often join the birds in the yard. It makes for a nice wildlife scene.
I also like suet feeders to attract birds like woodpeckers and nuthatches. Suet also attracts cardinals, chickadees and titmice.
Suet is fat (animal or vegetable) used to hold together seed, nuts and sometimes berries. Most suet made nowadays will hold together, even in warmer months — it should be labeled so on the package.
I have many suet feeders around the house, and I have these tips:
• Place suet cakes in specially designed cages.
• Place the cages in shaded locations, preferably where it will be hard for squirrels and raccoons to reach.
• Most important, use small pieces of wire to keep cages closed. The wire will help keep pests (previously mentioned) from reaching the contents.
If you have bird-feeding tips or just want to comment, feel free to email me at email@example.com.