Archive for Sunday, November 10, 1991


November 10, 1991


A cluster of cardinals and chickadees peck at scattered seeds on the ground while a red-bellied woodpecker dines above at a house-shaped feeder.

Nearby, a small, downy woodpecker serves himself niger thistle seed from a tube feeder, while at the rear of the yard, morning doves and juncos gorge on pale-colored safflower seeds.

Early snow and cold temperatures didn't phase these wild diners in Jan Hall's back yard last week or other wild birds who frequent feeders filled by local enthusiasts.

But it takes awhile, veteran feeders advise, for the birds to learn where they can count on finding such stocks, so anyone interested in putting seed and suet out might want to get started.

"I THINK they draw on each other," said Hall, who started feeding wild birds 17 years ago and in the last few days has counted 23 different species at her feeders.

"Some days they eat like pigs. Others, it's really, really slow."

Regular diners include cardinals, juncos, woodpeckers, nuthatches, finches, chickadees, sparrows and, occasionally, a sharp-shinned hawk that prefers one of the smaller birds for its dinner to Hall's bounty of seeds.

Of the hawk's occasionaly visits, Hall said, it, too, is wildlife trying to survive the cold but fat neighborhood cats are another matter entirely.

BOTH HALL and Joyce Wolf, a birdfeeder for more than 30 years, said domestic cats could be a serious threat to wild birds at backyard feeders.

"You have to be real careful about the placement of your feeders," Wolf said, recalling a junco's killing before her very eyes by a cat hiding under a low-branched evergreen.

"Make sure feeders are far enough out in the open that birds have a chance to get away."

Hall, who also feeds and bands hummingbirds in warmer weather she banded 200 this summer alone goes so far as to set cat traps in her yard. When she catches a feline intruder, she calls the city's animal control officer, who takes the furry prowler off to the animal shelter.

"If they (the cats' owners) would just put a bell on them," Hall lamented.

There are more than 10 feeders positioned across her back yard and filled with a variety of seeds. Several hang outside windowpanes off of the kitchen, dining areas and living room.

"THEY WILL come right up to the windows" as the weather gets colder, she said. "That's when you see them up close."

Richard "Mob" Rucker, a year-round feeder since 1977, said black oil sunflower chips in his window feeder drew flickers and downy woodpeckers so close he could see they "actually lick up the seeds with their very long tongue."

He and his wife, Roseanne Smith, have six hanging feeders, one window feeder, one suet feeder and one platform feeder in their midtown back yard, and they keep two pair of binoculars one each, and set accordingly near their window for instant close-ups.

Rucker said they drew a variety of wild birds despite their location and fed all that came just for the joy of watching them.

PEOPLE interested in feeding selectively should determine what kinds of birds they want to draw and buy their feed accordingly, he advised.

A general mix will entice such ground feeders as morning doves, pigeons and sparrows, as well as cardinals, while chickadees and finches prefer the niger thistle seed.

Wolf, who has seven feeders in operation, said inexpensive "grocery store" seed should be avoided because "you'll just end up feeding English sparrows."

She and Rucker noted many birds prefer the black oil sunflower seeds, especially over the grey-striped variety, the only exception being blue jays. Part of the reason may be the smaller size of the black oil seeds; black oil seeds also have a higher oil content than the striped variety, giving birds more protein for the energy they must expend in eating.

SAFFLOWER SEEDS, which look similar to sunflower seeds but are beige in color, also are recommended, as is the niger seed, which draws an exclusive crowd of such birds as gold and purple finches and chickadees. It also has the added advantage of not being attractive to squirrels.

In addition to offering preferred types of seed, Rucker said, it's important to present the feed to the birds properly. He said he tried to feed hummingbirds for a decade without success, and then moved their feeder over his flower bed. Hummers finally showed up, in numbers.

Among the winter birds, he said, morning doves, pigeons and sparrows like to eat right on the ground while chickadees and goldfinches definitely do not.

GENERAL MIXES are best used on the ground or in a platform feeder, Rucker said, but the more expensive black oil seeds and chips should go in hanging feeders, and the tiny niger, or thistle, seeds only go into tube feeders.

A good initial trick, though, is to scatter seed on the ground to attract birds' attention from the air.

"Don't be discouraged if they don't come right away," he said. "Some perseverence and some experimentation may be needed."

All members of the local Aubudon chapter, Rucker, Hall and Wolf said they purchase Audubon bird seed, in part to support the organization, as well as seed from a local specialty store, feed stores and lawn-and-garden stores.

Wolf said she had no idea how much money she and her husband spent on birdseed yearly.

"I don't think I want to know," she said, ". . . (but) we don't have too many other vices."

SHE DID NOTE, though, that they bought $80 worth of Audubon seed earlier this year, "and that will last us most of the winter."

Wolf also advised that a good feeding program includes a reliable source of water for the birds. Immersion heaters will keep water from freezing, she said, or plastic, rather than metal containers, can be filled daily and dumped at night. The plastic doesn't conduct cold as well as metal, so the water doesn't freeze as fast.

Her own waterer is an 18-inch-wide, 1-inch-deep plastic flower pot base that sits right on the ground, outfitted with a heater.

"It keeps (the water) at just an even temperature."

Another important consideration is landscape, Wolf added.

She occasionally presents public programs on bird feeding and said people tell her they're frustrated because they can't attract birds to their yards.

IN TALKING to them, she said she often found their yards' landscaping wasn't conducive to luring birds.

"Think seriously about incorporating plantings for the wildlife," she said, noting that the right plantings, preferrably native, can provide even more food in the form of berries, as well as shelter, which is the case with evergreens.

"It's not something you can do all at once," she said. "It's a long-range sort of thing."

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