Basic wild bird feeding increases avian appreciation
Also published at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/bird-banter-basic-wild-bird-feeding-increases-avian-appreciation.
By Barb Gorges
Your backyard may look empty after the leaves fall, but you can fill it with birds by offering them shelter, water and food.
There is some debate on whether feeding wild birds is good for them. But in moderation—the birds find natural food as well—I think it is a great way to increase appreciation for birds.
A bird feeder is no substitute for providing trees and bushes for birds to perch on or take shelter from weather and predators. Birds can also pick the seeds and fruits—or pick dormant insects out of the bark. Provide evergreen as well as deciduous trees and shrubs plus native perennial wildflowers.
Water is nice to have out. The birds appreciate drinking it and bathing in it. But if you can’t scrub out the gunk regularly, it’s better not to bother with it. In winter you’ll want to skip concrete and ceramic baths in favor of plastic since freezing water might break them. The best winter bird bath we ever had was the lid of a heavy plastic trash can—we could pop the ice out.
Feeding seed-eating birds—house finch, goldfinch, junco, pine siskin—is as easy as scattering seed on the ground. But here are tips to benefit you and the birds more.
- Black oil sunflower seed is the one best bird seed for our area. Seed mixes usually have a lot of seed our birds won’t eat and then you must sweep it up before it gets moldy.
- Put out only as much seed as you can afford each day (and can clean up after). If it lasts your local flock only an hour, be sure to put the seed out at a time of day you can enjoy watching the birds. They’ll learn your schedule.
- Tube-type feeders and hopper feeders keep seed mostly dry. Clean them regularly so they don’t get moldy. Consider hanging them over concrete to make it easier to clean up the seed hulls.
- If you don’t like sweeping up sunflower seed hulls or are concerned that the hulls will kill your lawn, consider paying more for hulled sunflower seeds.
- Spilled seed under the feeder attracts the ground feeders, like juncos, those little gray birds. They like elevated platform feeders too.
- If you have loose cats in your neighborhood, consider outlining the spilled-seed area under your feeder with 2-foot-tall wire fencing all the way around. It’s enough of an obstacle to make approaching cats jump so the birds will notice the break in their stealthy approach.
- Put your feeder close to the window you will watch from. It’s more fun for you, and the birds are less likely to hit the window hard as they come and go. They get used to activity on your side of the glass.
Once you have the regulars showing up, probably the house finches—striped brown and the males have red heads—and house sparrows—pale gray breasts, chestnut-brown backs, consider putting up a special feeder for the nyjer thistle seed that goldfinches and pine siskins love so much.
- Seed cakes are popular with chickadees and nuthatches. They require a little cage apparatus to hold them.
- Suet-type cakes are popular with downy woodpeckers and flickers.
- Squirrels like bird seed too. You can add a cone-shaped deterrent above or below a feeder so they can’t get to it. Or ask your dog to chase the squirrels. If you get more than a couple squirrels, quit feeding birds for a week or so and see if the squirrels won’t move somewhere else. The birds will come back.
- A sharp-shinned or a Cooper’s hawk may be attracted to your feeder, though they are coming by for a finch or sparrow snack instead of seed. This means that you have successfully attracted animals from the next trophic level and contributed to the web of life.
- Take pictures. Look up the birds and learn more about them through websites like www.allaboutbirds.org.
- Take part in citizen science programs like www.eBird.org and Project FeederWatch. Check my Bird Banter archives for more information, www.CheyenneBirdBanter.wordpress.com.