Did you get a new bird feeder for Christmas? Wild Birds Unlimited, a chain of nationally franchised “bird feeder” stores reported brisk sales this holiday season. Do you have that new bird feeder sitting on your porch, deck, garage or some other place as much to get it out of the way as to wait until you have time to do something with it? Now that the cold has come and the winter snows are here and promise to continue, is it time to put up the new feeder or too late?
Do the birds need the extra food? How long will it take for them to find the feeder and just what kind of food do you need to get? Is it expensive? There are a dozen questions and more replacing the visions of sugar plums in the minds of newcomers to the hobby of bird feeding.
Books have been written on the subject so I’m not going to be able to relate all that needs knowing about feeding birds in a short column. What I do want to relate is you don’t have to read a book or surf the internet to learn about bird behavior and use the new feeder. There are almost no rules to follow and what rules exist are basic common sense.
Is your backyard a good location? Is the front yard better? Should the feeder be put in the shade, in the sun, near a tree or an evergreen bush?
The answer is yes. Actually, the answer is it doesn’t really matter. You can feed birds if you live in the deep woods, you can feed birds if you live in town, you can feed birds if you live in an igloo on the frozen tundra or in a third floor apartment overlooking a parking lot. The species of birds your feeder will attract will change, depending on the “habitat” where your feeder is located, but where ever you put it, some sorts of bird will find it and provide you with entertainment and enjoyment.
Remember, contented birds are a only a side benefit to the hobby of bird feeding. For the most part, wild birds will fare just fine in the wild. They’ll find natural sources of food to keep themselves well fed and healthy. The feeders are for you.
So site them in a location where they are easy to see. Outside the kitchen window is perfect if you spend much time in the kitchen. If you have an office window where you work, sit to read, watch TV, sit to relax or spend any amount of time, put it there.
If you live in an igloo, put it anywhere. That’s the bad thing about igloos - no windows. And put it close to the glass. I’ve had feeders with suction cups that stick to the outside of the window glass. It’s spooky, when some of the birds seem to turn into peeping toms, watching me watching them.
WHAT TO FEED
The bird seed aisle at the Walmart I usually shop is almost as big as the pet food aisle and far more confusing. In the pet section, there’s cat food, dog food and sections for fish, hamsters and parakeets. There’s special food for old dogs or puppy dogs and overweight cats.
Most bird food isn’t labeled. Certainly, some kinds of birds prefer a special type of food and I’m sure bird feeding afficionados could bore you to tears about whether sunflower, safflower or Guizotia abyssinica are more attractive to siskins.
Leave that to the pros. For the beginning bird feeder, just buy the cheapest mix of seeds in the aisle, pour it into the feeder and see what shows up. You’ll soon learn what the mix of birds at your feeder like and then you can tailor your purchases to your birds’ tastes.
How about suet, fruit and nut logs or special feeders such as those designed for thistle seed? These are certainly attractive to some species of birds. Goldfinches love thistle. Jays and many woodpeckers will have at the suet. Don’t fret it - just have fun.
There are certainly more than just hungry birds roaming the tundra around your igloo. Squirrels, chipmunks, bears and other wildlife are also likely to show up for a free meal from time to time. I don’t much worry about bears in my backyard, and I don’t really mind the squirrels, either. The freeloaders eat more seed, but they are even more entertaining than the birds, to me.
When they start becoming a problem for you, congratulations. You are doing something right and your concern means you have become hooked on that “useless” bird feeder Santa left under the tree.