For The Answer
Express News Weekly Article
Saturday, December 27, 2003
By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, SAWS, and Horticulturist
Bird feeding is a way to encourage action in the garden during the cold period of the year.
There are insect-eating birds and seed-eating birds. The insect-eating birds are attracted to your garden with suet. Suet is beef fat. The commercially prepared blocks of suet available on today’s market are easy to use and effective in attracting birds like woodpeckers, starlings, kinglets, and even wrens and warblers. Remove the suet block from its plastic wrapper and slip it into a wire suet basket, which can be hung from a branch by the attached wire or string. Suet blocks come in every flavor you can think of including orange, berry, peanut, mixed seed, and pepper. The pepper flavored is especially good for use in yards that are blessed with squirrels. The pepper does not bother the birds, but the squirrels avoid it.
Insect-eating birds also like peanut butter. In fact, most birds like peanut butter. Take a butter knife or putty knife and rub the peanut butter into the bark of trees or on pinecones hung from the branches.
Seed blocks resemble suet blocks and are also offered in wire baskets. The baskets limit the amount of “block” that blue jays and squirrels can remove at a setting. The pecan-impregnated blocks are the favorite flavor but do not last long. I have had good luck with safflower seed blocks. Safflower seed is well liked by cardinals, chicadees, and titmice but is less attractive to squirrels, English sparrows, and doves.
Thistle feeders have become very popular. The long tubes with numerous small holes attract the finches. The lesser goldfinches and housefinches are attractive with their respective black and golden and pink-red coloring. The American goldfinches are called wild canaries by Yankees because of their striking gold color during the breeding season. In the winter they are a drab green-yellow coloring, but they tame easily and are acrobatic at the feeder. Their antics make a thistle feeder well worth the effort.
The favorite birdseed is sunflower seed. All the seedeaters and even some insect eaters will visit a feeder for the oil and protein-rich seed. To preserve the seed for cardinals, finches, titmice, and chickadees offer the seed in a metal feeder with a weight-sensitive perch. The steel construction material keeps the squirrels from chewing through the feeder and the weight-sensitive perch can be set to exclude white wing doves, squirrels, and even blue jays and grackles if you set it light enough.
I enjoy the ground-feeding seedeaters such as Inca doves, towhees, and American sparrows so mixed seed is offered on a low platform and on the ground. To reduce the chance of attracting rodents, spread the seed in the early morning and only in an amount that will be consumed by noon. Mixed seed works fine for the ground feeders. It is less expensive than sunflower, safflower or thistle seed. The mix usually includes some sunflower seed, millet, and cracked corn. Mixed seed provided in a hopper-type feeder usually results in the less desirable seeds ending up on the ground anyway. The birds scratch out the corn and millet to reach the sunflower seed.
Use bread pieces and stale pastry in the same way as the mixed seed.
Water also attracts a large number of birds. South Texas winters can be dry. Rinse out and refill a shallow birdbath every day or two to provide drinking water and bathing water for area birds. It is unlikely that cedar waxwings will be attracted to your feeders but the beautiful birds will arrive in flocks for long drinks of water in between their forays to eat all the hackberry, pyracantha, holly, wax myrtle, and nandina berries in the neighborhood.
Bird feeding is a fun and easy way to enhance the winter garden in San Antonio.