Backyard Banquet

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

Everyone can enjoy feeding the birds. It’s a simple hobby demanding little investment in equipment.You don’t even need a yard, for many people feed birds from park benches or at campsites.

During the last 25 years, bird feeding has become remarkably popular, ranking second only to gardening as America’s preferred outdoor pastime. About 43 percent of American households provide food for wild birds, and we spend at least 2.5 billion dollars annually on bird-related products, including seed and feeders.

People love to see beautiful birds up close and watch their antics. Later, they may be intrigued by the myriad bird interactions, their diversity of feeding styles and the unusual species that visit. Usually, people find binoculars and a field guide helpful for observing and identifying the various birds that come to feed.

Although individual birds benefit from receiving supplemental food and seed, feeding has almost no effect on total bird populations. Even when food is plentiful, habitat availability still limits bird numbers. The best way to increase overall bird populations is to increase the amount of bird habitat. The Conservation Department publication Landscaping for Backyard Wildlife includes recommendations for plants that offer food, cover and nest sites.

When to Feed

The best time to start attracting birds is during the first cold snap or snows of winter. During winter, a variety of birds eagerly accept handouts because they need calories. Some winter birds form large flocks and can seem quite tame when hungry.

Birds that winter south of Missouri, such as indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks and chipping sparrows, arrive in spring and can often be drawn to feeders. Feeding in warm weather helps you discover which birds are nesting in your neighborhood, especially if they bring their new fledglings around for a snack. Don’t worry about starving the birds if you cut off their food supply when you go on vacation. Wild birds can almost always find food.

Where to Feed

The best place for a feeder is where you can observe it and refill it easily. If you set out only one feeder, mount it on a deck railing or hang it from a tree limb where you can see it from inside your house. If possible, place the feeder near escape cover, such as evergreens or shrubs, so that birds will have a refuge if danger threatens.

Types of Seeds

To attract the greatest diversity of birds, the best seeds to use are black oil sunflower, striped sunflower, hulled

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