A bird’s-eye view: Bird feeding tips

Published 5:04 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2015

As fall and winter approach I think more about feeding the birds in my yard. If you are new to bird feeding or an old pro you may be confronted with the dilemma of what to offer birds and how to present it. Here are some tips that you may find useful.
Offer a variety of seeds to your birds. Try black oil sunflower and safflower, both of which are readily available. This one-two punch will attract a variety of birds including Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, House Finch, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Over-wintering Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches even seemto prefer black oil sunflower to the more expensive thistle seed. If you do offer thistle seed, ensure that it does not get wet. Thistle quickly spoils if wet and birds stay far from it.
The black oil sunflower seed is highly preferred by birds over the striped sunflower seed and for good reason. The black oil sunflower seed has a much higher fat or oil content and is much meatier. With thinner shells to open than the striped sunflower, the black oil can be opened by much smaller birds such as chickadees. If you don’t want the mess of sunflower seed hulls on the ground under your feeder, you can purchase hulled black oil sunflower seeds or chips. They are just a little more expensive and offer no mess.
You can purchase inexpensive hanging feeders that use gravity to drop seed from a hopper to an opening the birds can eat from to offer the black oil sunflower and safflower. Some feeders simply have holes cut into their sides for birds to hang onto while reaching in for seeds. The small perches and unpredictable swinging and twisting motion of these hanging feeders doesn’t bother small birds or woodpeckers, but usually discourages larger birds such as Common Grackle, Blue Jay, American Crow and European Starling. They also prey on small birds’ eggs and young,  so you may not want to encourage them into your yard.
If you like Northern Cardinals you should know that the instability of hanging feeders can be a deterrent to them. They prefer feeding on the ground or a platform-type feeder. Platform feeding can consist of simply scattering seed on a piece of wood, a picnic table, railing or flat rock. Never throw seed on the ground. Ground seeds will quickly spoil and become contaminated with fungus, bacteria and bird droppings.
Try using red milo, white millet, cracked corn and cracked peanuts on your platform feeders to have a better chance of attracting Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove, Eastern Towhee as well as a variety of wintering sparrows. It wouldn’t hurt to throw in a handful of black oil sunflower seed to get the Northern Cardinals to feed.
It is very important to keep your bird feeders clean. I recommend washing them with warm, soapy water every few weeks to keep diseases down. Ensure your feeder is completely dry before refilling. Dirty and fouled bird feeders spell sickness and death to many bird species.
Making my own bird feeders has been fun for me over the years.  One of the easiest feeders I ever made was cutting a 30-inch section of an Eastern Red Cedar limb that was about 3 inches in diameter. With a 1 1/2-inch Forstner bit I drilled holes in several places around the limb without drilling all the way through. I pack the holes with a suet dough that I make and hang the log feeder from a hook I placed in one end. A piece of wire or chain will hang the feeder from a shepherd’s hook or a tree limb.
There are a number of suet dough recipes available, but I want to share mine with you. I promise you the birds cannot resist this mixture. I actually have video of Gray Catbirds taking the suet dough from my hand it is so desirable. My bluebirds fly towards me for a handout when they see me exit my backdoor.
In a container stir together the following dry ingredients:
1 cup flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 cups chick starter (unmedicated, available at feed stores)
2 cups quick oats
In a microwaveable dish melt together:
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup lard
Combine all ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon. Serve some to birds, store the rest and there’s no need to refrigerate.  It’s that simple.
I like to place my bird feeders at least 10 feet or more from trees, limbs, buildings or shrubs that squirrels could potentially use to gain access to the feed. I baffle my feeders so that raccoons and squirrels cannot climb the post or pole.  But I do like to have the feeders in the near proximity of shrubs or cover should a songbird need to make a quick escape from a hawk. And believe me, feeding birds in your yard is like ringing a dinner bell for accipiters (hawks that eat other birds). They know when and where to go for a delicious dove or cardinal meal.
As the seasons change, try feeding birds in your yard. See if you can identify them and possibly keep a list of the species. You might be surprised what you get. And if you have an outdoor cat,  forget all this. It’s not fair to bait wild birds to your feeder and yard only to be predated by a non-native species like a house cat.  Or even better yet, keep your cat indoors where they belong!
I would like to thank Georgann Schmalz of Birding Adventures Inc. for her assistance.
Enjoy the beauty of our native birds.

Phil Hardy, a bird watcher and bird photographer, lives in Americus.