Feed the Birds!
When things get chilly out, critters start loading up on any available food. Most of us critter people have some type of bird feeder or another which we use to attract the little scoundrels to
yard, instead of our neighbor's. And then we fill those feeders up with stuff that costs us money. How can you get the most bang for your buck?
Begin by not buying seed that is already going bad. Look carefully at the bag and see if you can spot any webbing, insect larvae, or seeds with holes. If you can, don't buy any bag from that batch. Another sign would be clumping, if as you shift the bag around, some clumps of seed don't want to "flow."
Second, don't waste your money on generic "wild bird mix." If you see
on the label, you're looking at a mix that has had basically worthless seed added in to boost the weight and make you think you're getting more for your money. House sparrows will eat those seeds, but they are invasive birds that will assassinate your bluebirds--so I prefer not to put out food to attract them. (White proso millet is ok.)
One of the best ways to feed the birds is to plant shrubs that will do it for you. Fall is the best time to plant, since it gives the plants time to put effort into their root systems before the spring thrust. You will be rewarded for your efforts! Just remember that when it comes to the bird buffet, one shrub in isolation may not do much. Plant a group--it will capture their attention without fail. (
Photo: Bluebird on winterberry holly--a native deciduous holly.
Next--keeping seed that will be enjoyed and that will last. Safflower seed (white in color) has a shelf life of about 7 months, making it a good choice if you need to store food outside (securely). Grackles don't like safflower, and squirrels prefer other things, generally. They'll eat it in a pinch, however! It works well for cardinals, house finches, chickadees, titmice, doves and other birds. If I were filling a feeder that was "unsecured," (no
, not "squirrel-proof," etc.) I would use safflower seed in that feeder.
Next, use a feeder that works for the birds you want. Thistle (or niger) seed is an expensive seed enjoyed by many, many birds. Its shelf life is between 3 to 5 months. The only birds that I really want to invest that much dinero in are goldfinches. Goldfinches, unlike other finches, can eat upside down. So if you purchase a feeder that only goldfinches can use and then fill it with their favorite seed, you should see lots of goldfinches! (
Example in photo at left.
) I would first put out a general finch mix which contained thistle to make sure you have goldfinches in the area before investing in a special feeder. Any good goldfinch feeder should be the "clinging" variety--no perches. This way you will eliminate birds like cardinals that might try to pilfer.
Black Oil Sunflower seed is probably the top dog in bird seed. It is high in nutrition and loved by all. The hulls can build up under a feeder site, so you have two options: rake up the hulls and throw them in your compost bin, or choose a pre-hulled option like sunflower hearts. It is more expensive, but you are not paying for the weight of hulls and you will have no waste. Without the shells, however, the shelf life goes down. The best way to buy sunflower seed is in bulk--but only if you can use it pretty quickly.
Other winners: suet--guaranteed for woodpeckers and many other insect-eating birds that need the fat and protein. My big winner, however, is shelled peanuts. Titmice, Chickadees and all of the woodpeckers will make off with the peanuts. Placement of a feeder for shelled peanuts is critical --squirrels will eat you out of house and home if they are too accessible!
When should you feed? If you really want to help songbirds, the answer is year-round. Nesting will start sooner and be more successful if exhausted parents have a reliable source to beef up what they bring home from their hunting trips. Take time every couple of months to empty seed feeders and clean them thoroughly. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every time you fill them.
And don't forget the water. A clean bird is a warmer bird. Plus, they gotta wash down all those seeds. ;)