Monday, September 5, 2016

To Feed or Not To Feed

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Early in March, birds' natural food supply is at its lowest point of the year. Insect populations are still low, and the few remaining wild fruits, berries, seeds and nuts are either hidden or undesirable. Unpredictable weather doesn't make life any easier. Sunny, warm, spring-like days can turn into cold, damp conditions that challenge birds' survival skills. And to make matters worse, this is all happening as some birds prepare for nesting season.
These challenges provide you with the best opportunities of the year to help your birds.
Offer lots of high-energy foods, such as peanuts and suet. Loaded with fat and protein, these are beneficial substitutes for the scarce insects many birds would eat if they could find them.

Male and Female Rose Breasted Grosbecks
In the summer, it's pretty much a matter of feed them if you want to watch them up close.  Otherwise, they find their own food and are busy raising family.

When it gets cold enough there are no longer insects, it's time to seriously consider feeding birds.  

Birds are loyal, in a fashion, to the hand that feeds them.  They learn quickly where there's a good reliable food source.  They're also fickle if you put food out and then forget to replenish it for a few days.  Think of how you wouldn't stick around and wait out several days with no food if it meant starving on a cold winter night.  You'd be off looking for a new diner quickly.
Northern Cardinal eating during a snow storm

Every person who feeds birds has their special just right food and method.  Most have learned this over trial and error.  My grape jelly has never attracted anything but insects but others have entire flocks of Oreoles at their jelly.

Some folks spend a small fortune for specialized foods.  Others throw out bread crumbs or peanuts.  

Here's a few common sense suggestions for feeding birds:

Position your feeders where you can easily keep them filled all winter.  If you have to walk on a mile of ice and six feet of snow, chances are you won't keep them filled. 

Keep your feed in totally sealable plastic tubs.  Insects and rodents will find any little hole in the storage unit and ruin the food.
Goldfinch eating straight from the sunflowers

Put your feeders where you'll be able to watch them during the day.  It's one of the major reasons for feeding birds.

Start the cold weather feeding by totally cleaning out the feeders.  Use a putty knife to scrape them clean then wash with a mild bleach solution, rinse and let dry.  

Make sure your feeders are water proof.  Nothing spoils food faster than getting wet.
House Finch enjoying his treats.

If squirrels raid your feeders more than you want, position another cracked corn feeder away from the bird feeders.  It won't solve the entire problem but it does give them a place they enjoy more.  Cracked corn is also a favorite of several larger birds.

An all around favorite bird food is sunflower seeds.  Get them hulled unless you want to have a huge pile of solid hulls under your feeder.    My birds don't like the cracked sunflower seeds and they go to waste plus make a big mess.

Niger seeds are a favorite of some birds but they are expensive and seldom attract a bigger variety of birds to my feeders.
Bluejay with seed

The pre-mixed bird seed seems to have loads of seeds my birds don't eat.  They scatter them around and they sprout; making a mess.  A waste of good money.

When there's loads of snow and ice, make sure they can get through it to the food.   I've found my feeders totally frozen with wet snow that took a lot of chipping with a screwdriver to expose the seeds.

Birds like a place, close to the feeders, where they can escape or hide easily.  Mine is a tangle of honeysuckle on an arbor and an evergreen bush.  

My birds like homemade suet better than packaged.   One I use:

In the microwave, melt lard, and peanut butter. Add whatever I have at the time: oats, nuts, seeds, dried or fresh fruit, & corn meal. Line sandwich shaped refrigerator containers with plastic wrap, pour in the mix and refrigerate. I make several and keep in the freezer in plastic bags. Unwrap, put in your suet feeder and hang where the dogs can’t reach. 

Yes, birds have been surviving for as long as the earth has been formed.  In spite of this fact, I still like to do my little part, in my little yard, to make their lives a little fuller and to make my enjoyment of them a little nicer on cold winter days.

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