For The Answer
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Week of January 9, 2006
“Feeding Winter Birds”
If you want to increase the action in your garden this winter consider feeding the birds. Providing sunflower seed, thistle, suet, and fruit will bring in many species that are fun to watch. Water can also be used to attract birds to the garden.
Several different types of bird seed are available and it can be provided to area birds in a large selection of feeders. Sunflower seed attracts cardinals, titmice, chickadees, jays, grackles, house finches, gold finches, doves, English sparrows and many other species. It is very nutritious and provides high levels of oil to fuel the birds on cold evenings. The best bird feeder for our area are the steel feeders with weight sensitive perches. The steel resists the squirrel teeth and the weight sensitive perches allow you to shut out squirrels, white wing doves, and grackles in favor of smaller birds with smaller appetites.
Hang the sunflower feeder from a horizontal tree branch that is easy to see from the window. The feeder should be in the open five to ten feet from cover so that cats can’t hide and attack feeding birds but they can flee hawks. The feeder should be hung at a height of four to seven feet from the ground, low enough to reach for easy filling.
Thistle seed is very popular in South Texas because it is the favorite seed of American and lesser goldfinches. They become very tame and are entertaining as they squabble and do acrobatics on the feeder roosts. There are a great many tubular feeders manufactured especially for thistle. Squirrels do not like thistle seed so the feeders do not have to be armored. Hang the thistle feeder on a trellis or the eaves for easy viewing. The shells of thistle are very small so thistle feeders do not make a mess and can be hung on the patio.
For ground feeding birds like Lincoln sparrows, towhees, Inca doves, and quail provide a mix of millet cracked corn and sunflower seed on a low platform or on the ground. Provide the seed in the morning and only put out a quality seed that is consumed by early afternoon. Leftover seed attracts rodents.
There are many flavors of suet and suet dough on the market. Suet is beef fat. It is attractive to insect eaters like woodpeckers, wrens, jays, starlings, and kinglets. Orange flavored suet and berry flavored suet is popular with birds. Peanut butter is another great food for attracting the insect eaters. It can just be spread on tree bark.
We like fruit in my household and buy a lot of it. There is always some that is past its prime and not likely to be eaten. We use this fruit for the birds. To feed fruit to the birds pound a few headless nails into a trellis, tree post or even the face board of the eaves. Halves of apples, oranges, lemons stuck on the nails will attract mockingbirds, finches, orioles and other species. Mushy bananas can be pressed into crevices for the same birds or just layout the bananas and grapes, cranberries, plums, and peaches on a platform or tray.
Water can be in short supply during a dry San Antonio winter. Bird baths will attract many birds including warblers that generally ignore feeders. Cedar waxwings are especially fond of bird baths. They drink in large numbers in between feeding forays into the hackberries and ligustrum. Every spring and fall many area gardeners that have recirculated ponds or bird baths see painted buntings, indigo buntings, orioles, several types of warblers and all the birds that take seed from feeders. Water features can be simple or complex and most will help make your garden “Bird Central.”
For more information on bird feeding there are many good websites on the Internet. If you prefer to obtain your information from a book, my favorite book is “Attracting Birds to Southern Gardens” by Pope, Odenwald, and Fryling.