Backyard Banquet

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

seeds in the hull. Purple and house finches can become monotonously numerous, and additional feeders may be required to reduce competition. The aggressive behavior of blue jays bothers some people. You can discourage them with swinging feeders and the counter-weighted feeders already mentioned.

Occasionally, sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawks may take advantage of an assemblage of prey at a feeder. These bird-eating hawks are comparatively rare, but if their attacks on songbirds upset you, place feeders near escape cover or discontinue feeding. Hawks are protected by state and federal law.

If feeders have a downside, it’s that they probably attract a disproportionate number of diseased and handicapped birds that find it difficult to find food in the wild. One commonly seen disease is house finch conjunctivitis, a bacterial infection that causes swelling around a house finch’s eye.

To reduce disease potential, keep areas under feeders clean and occasionally wash feeders with bleach solutions and rinse. If disease appears epidemic, stop feeding immediately to curtail its transmission.

Feeder Birds

  • Blue jay - These members of the crow family eat anything from seeds to table scraps. Noisy, bold and gregarious, they sometimes frighten other birds away. They usually avoid freely swinging feeders.
  • European starling - These 6-inch natives of Europe have short, pointed wings and long, sharp bills. In winter, they have white spots on black, stocky bodies. They sometimes become so numerous and aggressive that they push out other birds. To discourage them from visiting, discontinue putting out suet, table scraps, corn or standard wild bird seed mixes.
  • Pine siskin - These 5-inch cousins of the goldfinch favor Niger seed, especially if it is provided in a finch feeder. Pine siskins are an unusual and exciting find.
  • Evening grosbeak - These stocky, 7-inch seed eaters visit sporadically in winter. Consider yourself extremely fortunate if you should find the bright male perched on your feeder. The female is not as vividly marked but is the same size as the male and has the same thick, ivory-colored bill. They are especially fond of sunflower seeds.
  • American goldfinch - Sometimes called wild canaries, these 4 1/2-inch birds are common in Missouri throughout the year. Their winter plumage is subdued, but in summer, the males are easily identifiable by their vibrant yellow. Goldfinches eat many kinds of seeds. Tubular feeders allow them to escape competition from larger birds that find it difficult to land on the small perches.
  • House sparrow - Often called English sparrows, these

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