Backyard Bird Feeding

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Backyard Bird Feeding by Christina Heiska             
The following story was submitted by Karen Crassi.

Attracting birds to your yard can be an educational and fun hobby. Birds are great to watch and they enhance the beauty of any yard with their bright colors and songs. (They will also eat a ton of insects!) I enjoy feeding my backyard wild birds,but know that the price of feeders and seed can cost a small fortune.

Some people will feed birds in the winter only, but I prefer to feed them year round. By doing this, you'll be able to see the interesting bird mating rituals, give the new parents a reliable source of food when they are busy raising their young and the joy of watching a parent feed an offspring a piece of food from your feeder.

If you do not regularly feed the birds, but during the winter you throw out stale doughnuts/bread and think you are doing good, think otherwise. Junk food and bread may fill up the bird's belly, but it won't provide the necessary protein and fats necessary to keep their little body warm. They'll fill up on the bread and not have room for the high energy foods (seeds, insects) necessary to keep them warm during the cold winter nights. So even if you see the birds devouring the bread, remember that it may cause them to drop dead during the night. Save the stale bread for your meatloaf.

I buy primarily black oil sunflower seed. I purchase it in 50 pound bags (about $14 where I live) at a "feed" store. I avoid buying bags of mixed seeds. Just like regular food, the ingredient list will list the highest quantity of seed first.

Read the label, if the first or second ingredient is milo, then skip it. Milo is a seed that is a "filler" and most birds will pick through it to get to the sunflower seeds anyhow. Don't blame the birds for being "picky", some species are just not designed to eat certain seeds. Think of it this way, if you gave your dog a choice of a steak or an orange to eat, which one do you think he would choose? The dog could eat the orange if he had to, but he's not going to unless he's forced.

Another type of food that I provide is suet. In the winter, I buy a hunk of beef suet at the grocery store for about .25 and it lasts several months. (Most times you will have to ask the butcher for this.) Raw beef suet is only good if the temperatures in your area stays fairly cold, 40 degrees or colder most days. Otherwise the suet will turn rancid. I have several special wire mesh suet feeders but there is a cheap alternative. You can take the mesh plastic bag (like the kind that a frozen turkey comes in) put the suet in it, tie it up with a twist tie and its ready to hang outside.

When the weather turns warmer I replace the beef suet with a homemade alternative. You can buy little bricks of store bought suet, but this is cheaper and I think the birds prefer it. This recipe can also be found on my webpage, the address is listed below.

Homemade Bird Suet
Mix with hands (yes, it's a bit messy):
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup Crisco shortening (or cheap generic kind)
1 cup flour
4 cups cornmeal

I form it into fat hamburger patty size shapes and place in suet feeders. Refrigerate leftovers.

Another necessity for birds is water (which is free for me). I bought a birdbath for about $15. Water level should be shallow, about 2" or less. Higher than that and the birds will be reluctant to use it. If you already have one but it's very deep, you can make it more bird-friendly by adding flat stones or rocks.

The prices of feeders range from inexpensive to expensive. I admit I use high quality feeders but I think they are worth it. Most of my feeders were purchased cheaply at yard sales (but were originally bought at wild bird specialty stores). I have also suggested to family, particular feeders as potential Christmas gifts! Many of the high quality bird feeder manufacturers will sell replacement parts if you find one at a yard sale that is missing a piece. Often times, cheaper quality feeders are poorly designed; they cause seeds to clog, or they don't hold much so you constantly have to fill it. You can also browse the wild bird specialty stores for ideas, and if you are handy with a saw and wood, there are a few platform style feeders that can easily be copied.

My last tip is to choose berry producing shrubs and plants for landscaping whenever possible. Certain birds do not eat seeds; they only eat bugs and berries. So by providing birdseed, suet, water and berries you'll be reenacting scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" in no time! (Just kidding). Good luck!

Copyright: Birds of A Feather Avicultural Society and Author Nov 1998

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