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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Just for the Birds

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

Bird feeders are part of many backyards during the winter months. We enjoy the activity around the feeder, by the birds themselves and the additional wildlife that feed on the leftovers tossed to the ground by the birds at the feeder. We can attract specific birds by choosing an appropriate feeder.

One of our favorite ones seems to be the thistle feeder since it will attract a number of different finches into our yard. Since thistle seed can be expensive, these specific feeders to not allow the larger birds that would eat more to feed. We have all likely seen these feeders; they are usually a clear plastic cylinder with several small perches near holes where the finches can feed. Even these feeders can be more selective if you want. If the perches are horizontal, then sparrows will be able to eat too. If the perches are vertical, this limits the seed to finches.

General bird feeders accommodate just about any bird that visits the backyard. Some of these bird feeders have weighted perches that allow the smaller birds access while the weight of the larger birds will cause the door to close over the seed. This can conserve a lot of seed and stretch your resources. One big concern we have is all the wasted seed down on the ground. This is typical if we use a mix of seed to fill the feeder. Each bird feeding throws out seed looking for their favorite. If you do not mind that, then there is plenty of seed on the ground for squirrels, rabbits and other smaller creatures that need to eat all winter. Some birds like Mourning Doves and Juncos will feed on the ground.

Another way to handle the waste is to feed using more than one feeder and in each one a specific seed. Examples would be sunflower seed for cardinals, nuthatches and chickadees. Millet will attract sparrows and juncos. If your interest is with bigger birds like woodpeckers, then supply suet.

If you only have room for one feeder and want to feed a variety of birds, chose one that has suet feeders on the ends, has a weighted perch to manage the seed supply and use a mix of seed. It is also very important that once you start to feed the birds, you continue throughout the entire winter season as birds will come to rely on your feeder daily. If you have already been feeding birds for years, then you also know that a source of open water is also needed.

There is so much more that can be said about feeding birds during the winter and the choices of feeders ranging from small to very large to feeders for specific birds. Feeders can be simple to very elaborate. Since we attract squirrels because we do feed the birds, there are feeders that deter squirrels from climbing up or jumping over from a nearby limb. Consider stores that have a wide selection of feeders and bird seed that will allow you to attract the kinds of birds you want in your yard. Ask lots of questions so you are comfortable with your purchase.

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