Feeding the Birds
Carolyn Gritzmaker Indian Trail Master Naturalist
The meadowlarks and mockingbirds may still be sitting out there panting in the late summer heat, but now is the time to begin thinking about feeding the birds this winter. It’s time to begin making those feeders and preparing the suet cakes. It’s time to look forward to cooler, maybe even colder weather again!
With this article we will begin a short series dealing with bird feeders, foods, why types of feeders and foods attract certain birds, and how to deal with nuisance birds and predators. Early fall is the time to set our your feeders. Try to choose a site that is protected, yet also gives you easy access even if there is snow (wishful thinking) on the ground. If possible, try to situate the feeding station in view from a window so you will be able to watch and enjoy the birds which come to your feeders.
Some feeders are very simple. A short log with one inch wide holes drilled in it at various intervals, then packed with suet or peanut butter mix and hung by one end is ideal for woodpeckers. Half of a coconut shell hung from a tree or other support provides a place for suet mixes, seed or chopped fruits for smaller birds. Net bags from produce are perfect for pieces of suet or suet cakes. Either suspend the bag from a branch, or attach it to a tree trunk. A large open pinecone packed with peanut butter mix, sunflower seed or melted suet is a favorite of chickadees. A tuna or catfood can filled with peanut butter mix and chopped fruit is sure to please your mockingbird.
Other feeders are more elaborate. Platform feeders are easy to build and can be used to attract a wide variety of birds. Basically it is just a large, shallow wooden box one to three inches deep with drain holes in the bottom. Sometimes it will have a roof to protect the food from rain and snow. Usually it is mounted on a post, but this type feeder can also be mounted on a window sill, or placed on the ground. If raised, you can expect to attract goldfinches, chickadees, titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, and blue jays when you offer sunflower seeds and seed mixes. Some birds, like the Harris sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, junco and mourning dove are ground feeders. They prefer white proso millet, mixed seeds and cracked corn. Almost any type food can be offered in the platform feeder, it just depends on the kinds of birds you want to attract.
Hopper and tube seed dispensers are available commercially and are usually more efficient in dispensing seeds. However, sparrows and cardinals looking for a specific seed will empty a hopper feeder filled with a mix in no time, dumping the unwanted seeds to the ground as they search. If you have this problem, just offer one type of seed in each feeder. These feeders can be mounted on a pole or hung from a support. Some seed dispensers are rather specialized. The thistle feeder, for goldfinches and pine siskins, is a tube with tiny holes by the perches so the finches remove only one or two seeds at a time, preventing waste of this expensive food, and also preventing other birds with larger bills from raiding the feeder.
Don’t forget to supply water for the birds at your winter feeding station. Some birds, like the yellow-bellied sapsucker, will come for water, but not visit the feeding station otherwise.