Some birds, such as tufted titmice and chickadees, are finicky eaters, whereas birds such as mourning doves and white-throated sparrows will eat about any type of seed. The common cereal grains such as milo (or grain sorghum), wheat and oats all rate significantly below black, oil-type sunflower seed and white millet in attracting birds. Generally, packages of mix wrapped in clear plastic are put together to attract people more than birds. Rather than buying mixes, you may want to spend your money more effectively by buying only black, oil-type sunflower seed—not a mixture of sunflower seed–and white millet separately in bulk.
Bird-feeding stations may be as simple as seed placed on the ground or as complicated as a feeder accessible only to birds of certain weights. A plain wooden platform can be erected as a simple feeding station. Some edging around the outside will help keep the seed from falling on the ground. You may like to add a roof and tree walls to keep the rain off, or you may prefer the open platform for easy bird access and for the additional brightness for picture taking. A good way to offer sunflower seeds to birds is with a commercially available, clear-plastic cylinder or silo-type feeder.
In order to ensure a quality bird-feeding experience, you need to recognize that there are differences in feeding habits among birds. Songbirds, such as the dark-eyed junco, white-crowned sparrow and Harris sparrow, prefer to feed directly on the ground. Cardinals and blue jays will feed either on the ground or on a platform. Goldfinch and chickadees also will visit small, plastic feeders that are fixed to the outside of a window by a suction cup. Remember to locate your feeding station outside a room where you may relax and enjoy the visitors.
Many people enjoy feeding songbirds year-round. In fact, the most crucial time in the life of many birds may be in the early spring when naturally occurring seeds are more scarce. In the spring and summer, many young birds follow their parents to the feeder. It is fascinating to watch the parents show their young how to crack open the seeds.
Some birds, such as the Northern (Baltimore) oriole and the ruby-throated hummingbird, are only summer residents in Missouri. Orioles may be attracted to the feeding stations with fruit, and hummingbirds come to special feeders filled with sugar water. Suet or animal fat attracts insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers year-round.
People often say that if feeding is started it should be continued. This rigid schedule may be impossible to maintain. No research indicates that during normal weather, birds will starve if feeding is stopped for a time. Birds often visit many feeding stations in a neighborhood. You will be amazed at how fast the word gets out among birds that a new feeding station is available. Their natural curiosity and mobility ensure their success at making the rounds.
Landscaping and Other Tips
Besides furnishing the most attractive seed, you can entice birds to your feeders in other ways. A complete feeding program includes establishing trees, shrubs, vines and flowers that not only produce food but also provide cover. Many decorative trees and shrubs furnish fruits and berries for birds. Holly, hawthorn and persimmon are favorites of cedar waxwings. They will arrive in large flocks in winter and stay as long as the food supply lasts.
Quite often in new housing developments, trees and shrubs that birds use for nesting, perching and escaping predators may be in short supply. Birds need places to perch overnight and vantage points from which they may not only view the feeder but also watch for potential predators. Evergreens offer valuable, year-round cover from the weather in addition to secluded nesting sites.
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 need grit in their gizzards to grind up seeds.
By selecting the right seed for your bird-feeding station and by landscaping with plants that furnish cover and additional food, you can join the 62 million Americans who invite these colorful and fascinating creatures into their yards.