Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.
These days, feeding the birds is like running a dining establishment. The right menu must be offered with unique selections, or birds just won’t come. You can’t possibly serve a mixed kernel ‘hash’ to the fussy feathered flock; to be successful you must serve only the finest and freshest seed for discerning avian tastes.
Although birds eat like trolls, gobbling food quickly and conducting loud family quarrels, they’re more judgmental about food than any critic. After all, critics don’t usually throw what they dislike off onto the floor.
Seed is specialized to feed very specific species, no doubt due to modern birds turning their beaks up at blends that lack a nice chew. Simple, filling fare is out. Like great waiters, staff at local bird feeding bistros can help you make the right selection for finicky eaters.
Thistle is excellent for smaller birds, especially finches, juncos and sparrows. They find the crisp crack of the husk absolutely delightful. Others prefer the rich, earthy flavor of sunflowers (black oil and striped) along with safflower and white millet. Separate feeders serving each type of feed will bring a variety of birds to the backyard.
Having grackles arrive is like watching a busy evening at a trendy eatery. They’re loud, the feeder is crowded, and quieter birds just try to dine and flee. You might as well be serving Rocky Mountain Oysters and beer, they way grackles go at it. Should you wish to give the less raucous birds a chance, feed safflower seeds. The big grackles don’t like it and will move on.
One essential menu item is suet. Like a decadent slice of pie, suet is pure fat (with some seed), providing high energy in winter when birds need lots of calories to keep warm. Glazed with fruit or studded with insects, make suet a signature dish to attract woodpeckers or chickadees.
Appealing bird establishments will offer both water and food. Sources of water are critical to birds in winter for drinking, but birds bathe in it as well. I don’t recall that the latest craze in restaurants includes a bath with the meal. Still, baths are important to birds’ ability to stay warm. Break the ice each day and keep fresh water in the basin.
There’s no talking bird feeding unless you include squirrels. I’ve never seen such enthusiastic eaters. Squirrels launch themselves bodily at their food, something I’ve observed people do at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Because they jump high (to 6 feet) and wide – up to 10 feet – feeders are always under attack.
I admit I draw the line at feeding squirrels. They annoy me, mostly because I have one in my yard that I believe is planning my demise. At least, that’s what I think it’s plotting every time I see him staring intently at me while gnawing a decorative deer antler down to a lethal point.
This is probably the squirrel’s revenge for my finding the solution to their feeder raiding. A hanging baffle half way up the feeder pole stops them cold, provided the pole is located eleven feed from the nearest launch pad.
There’s a wide selection of seed and feeding stations available for the backyard birder. This is because not all birds prefer their food vertical. Some like their seed spread out on a platform so they may experience their food with both beak and feet. They also glean the ground for seed and especially love sunflower or millet.
Inevitably, there will be spillage from the feeders onto ground underneath. To prevent seeds from sprouting and growing plants no one recognizes, try the partially steamed mix that has been heated to stop germination.
Despite the effort going into food selection, feeding birds in winter is sure to add life to the garden. Just don’t take their criticism personally.
- Winter Bird Feeding | feeding birds in the winter (glenns-garden.com)
- Birds love a backyard banquet on their way to warmer climes (cleveland.com)
- Author debunks myths about bird feeding (seattletimes.nwsource.com)