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Backyard Birds

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Published on: Oct. 23, 2013

black-oil sunflower seed. Cracked corn is also inexpensive and recommended for spreading around on the ground for doves and sparrows. Squirrels eat corn, too, and it may help somewhat in keeping them out of your feeders.

  • Niger “thistle” is a small seed that usually goes into cylindrical feeders equipped with several perches and small holes from which the birds extract seeds. American goldfinches and purple finches, especially, are attracted to niger. It is more expensive than black-oil sunflower seeds, but fewer species eat it; consequently, it lasts somewhat longer.
  • In addition to seeds, birds also eat suet, fruit, and nectar. Suet, which is made from animal fat, is sold in small blocks and fits into specially designed wire cages that can hang from a limb or post. In summer, suet will sometimes spoil in the heat if it goes uneaten for a long period of time. If this happens, throw it out and start over with a fresh block, and try to hang it in a shady spot. Peanut butter is a good substitute for suet in the summer. Mix one part peanut butter with five parts corn meal and stuff the mixture into holes drilled in a hanging log or into the crevices of a large pinecone. This all-season mixture — as well as suet — attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and, occasionally, warblers.

    Some birds such as waxwings, bluebirds, and mockingbirds eat fruit and rarely birdseed. To attract these birds, soak raisins and currants in water overnight, and then place them on a table feeder. To attract orioles and tanagers, cut oranges in half and skewer them onto a spike and place them near other feeders.

    Ruby-throated hummingbirds are attracted to nectar feeders. Hummingbird feeders are fairly inexpensive, and it is easy to make the sugar-water “nectar” yourself. Simply make a sugar solution of one part white sugar to four parts water. There is no need to add red food coloring. Feeders must be washed every few days with very hot water and kept scrupulously clean to prevent the growth of bacteria. Change the nectar at least weekly, or more often if it becomes cloudy.

    Never use artificial sweeteners in feeders. Honey-water is sometimes wrongly recommended because it has a higher nutrient content than sugar-water. There are great dangers in using honey, however, because if the solution is not boiled and the feeder not cleaned each time before filling, a fungus that will attack the bird’s tongue can grow in the mix. In Missouri, hummingbirds typically visit feeders April 25 to the end of September, with the spring and fall seasons being the busiest.

    What About Water and Landscaping?

    To increase the popularity of your feeding station, furnish water — preferably year-round. The Carolina wren and the bluebird, Missouri’s state bird, may be enticed to feeding stations during the winter if water is available. During prolonged periods of ice or snow cover, provide grit (coarse sand or ground shells) along with the seed. Birds lack teeth, and the grit that they keep in their gizzards is used to grind up seeds.

    Besides furnishing the most attractive seed and a clean water supply, you may entice birds to your yard in other ways. Native trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers not only produce food for birds, they also provide cover. Many decorative trees and shrubs produce fruits and berries for birds. Holly, hawthorn, and persimmon, for example, are favorites of cedar waxwings.

    In new housing developments, trees and shrubs that birds use for nesting, perching, and escaping predators are often in short supply. Birds need places to perch overnight and vantage points from which they not only can approach your feeder, but from where they also can watch for potential predators.

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