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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Goldfinches on a finch feeder
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Bird Feeding Basics

Now is the time of year when I really enjoy feeding the birds and watching them from the comfort of my warm home. Before his retirement, Extension Educator Bob Frazee always had good tips on how to feed birds. Here is some of his information.

Since enjoying birds is a major objective, you will want to locate the feeder where it can be conveniently viewed – and used. Due to differences in body size, feet and bills, birds not only prefer different seeds, but also different foraging areas. This does not mean that birds will never feed in a different area, but you will increase your chances by catering to their feeding preferences.

Birds such as juncos, sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, and mourning doves prefer to forage on the ground for seeds. Frazee notes that you will often observe these birds hopping around the lower branches of shrubs and rustling through leaf litter in search of seeds and berries. A small brush pile, open lean-to or grassy patch provides cover for ground-feeding birds while they eat.

A covered tray feeder raised off the ground on a fence or pole is the most common feeder you see in people's yards. Tray feeders will accommodate most of the ground feeders plus chickadees, nuthatches, and finches. While this type of feeder will attract the widest variety of birds, the seeds are not protected from the weather and can get wet and/or moldy. Frazee cautions that squirrels and large birds, such as grackles and blue jays may also invade a tray feeder.

Hanging feeders may include hopper, silo and tube feeders with perches. Hung from a branch, eaves, or a clothesline, these feeders sway freely in the wind, which doesn't bother birds such as finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. However, some birds, such as sparrows, get a little "sea-sick" and prefer more stability. Frazee encourages filling large hanging feeders with sunflower seeds to attract cardinals and blue jays. Small feeders should be geared more toward finches, chickadees, nuthatches and tufted titmice. Niger seed is very attractive to goldfinches and works well in small-hole tube feeders, which avoid waste.

Woodpeckers and nuthatches are primarily insect eaters. They prefer foods high in protein and fat such as suet and peanut butter that can be dispersed in clinging feeders. Made of hardware cloth, mesh bags, pinecones, coconuts or other "structures" lacking perches, clinging feeders are excellent for dispensing peanuts to smaller birds or suet to insect-eaters.

Lastly, just like persnickety kids, birds have different food preferences. Hands down, black-oil sunflower seeds are the most popular food among a large variety of birds. Juncos and sparrows go wild for white proso millet, goldfinches can't resist niger seed, and chickadees and titmice will delightfully indulge themselves with peanuts. In a nutshell, Frazee concludes that the key to successfully attracting wildlife to your backyard is to add variety.

Original Source: Bob Frazee, Retired University of Illinois Extension Educator in Natural Resources Management

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