For The Answer
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Week of October 23, 2006
It is time to clean up the bird feeders and begin feeding sunflower seed, safflower seed, thistle, mixed seed, suet and fruit. Water is also important in the winter and will attract many birds to your landscape.
Sunflower seed is the favorite bird seed of many seed eating winter birds. Most notable are cardinals, blue jays, Inca doves, chicadees, titmice, and house finches. It is also a favorite of squirrels, English sparrows, and white-winged doves. It is relatively easy to reduce consumption by squirrels and white-winged doves. Purchase a steel feeder with a weight-sensitive perch. The perch can be set to exclude the heavy doves and squirrels. The squirrels also can not chew through the steel feeder.
Another strategy that works well to attract desirable birds and discourages squirrels is to feed safflower seed instead of sunflower seed. Cardinals are especially fond of safflower seed. Provide the seed in a tube feeder with small perches and it also reduces the amount of seed that the white-winged doves consume.
Thistle is the best seed for attracting goldfinches to your yard. Thistle is usually fed with a tube-type feeder. The American and lesser goldfinches perch or hang upside down at each hole in the cylinder as they feed. American goldfinches are drab during the winter, but the lesser goldfinches are a striking combination of black and yellow. Thistle feed is desirable because the squirrels do not have much interest in it and the seed is so small that the shells do not make as much a mess as the larger seeds.
Several species of American sparrows and even towhees will come to your yard for seed. They will feed on seed that falls from the other feeders, or you can feed a mixed blend that includes some millet and even scratch grain. Feed it on a low platform or on the ground. Only put out as much as the birds will eat by noon to reduce the attraction to rodents. Breadcrumbs and other bakery products can be fed in this same manner. Do not overdo it or the chance of attracting rodents is more likely.
Provide suet to bring in the insect eating birds for observation. Suet is beef fat. In the “old days” we begged chunks of suet from the butcher. Now we buy it in convenient packages that fit in to specially made suet block holders. The suet blocks are enhanced with nuts and fruit. Flavored dough blocks also attract many birds. Woodpeckers, kinglets, and even some warblers will visit the blocks. Jays, titmice, and chicadees also like them.
Bird feeding will attract birds to your landscape and make it easier to observe them. In the long term, however, the state of your landscape in terms of cover, nectar producing blooms, seed sources, and fruit producing plants is the most effective way to encourage birds. A landscape attractive to birds is one with plants that grow at every level, not just lawn and shade trees. Include perennials, low shrubs, tall shrubs, small trees, medium size trees, and if you have the room, tall trees. For information, visit www.plantanswers.com, and search for wildscape and/or planting for birds.