If you think putting out seed and suet is for the birds, you're right.
In late winter and early spring, when insects, berries and grass seeds are scarce, birds need all the help they can get, said Karyn Baker Riney, owner of the Birdwatchers' Store, 15 W. Ninth.
"When birds get ready for the breeding season, that's the most difficult time of the year," she said. "They have a better chance of raising a brood successfully if there is a dependable food source nearby."
The best time to put up a bird feeder, Riney said, is during the fall, when birds scout out potential food sources and shelter for the winter.
People who put up feeders outdoors usually want to view them easily from inside their house, she said, but they also need to think about the feeder's location from a bird's point of view.
Birds are likeliest to use feeders that are in sunny areas out in the open but with nearby trees or bushes that they can use for quick escapes from predators, Riney said.
Placing a feeder near a window can be fatal to birds, which, like the birdbrains they are, will mistake the reflection of blue sky and trees and smash head-first into the glass.
PUTTING decals on the window can help solve that problem, she said.
The type of feeder, its location and type of bird feed can help determine the varieties of birds that will visit, Riney said.
Birders who like to watch their feathered friends but hate to clean up after them should consider trying to attract "carry-out" birds, such as chickadees, blue jays and titmice, that fly in, grab a seed and fly off to a perch to dine, she said.
Whole unshelled peanuts will attract those birds, as well as chipmunks, she said.
But the black oil sunflower seed is a sure-fire way of getting birds of all feathers to feed together, or at least at the same feeder, Riney said.
"It used to be thought that a mix was best, that different birds ate different things," she said. "But some researchers did a study and found most (birds) prefer black oil sunflower seeds, because they're smaller, with a softer shell. It has a nutritious seed with a higher proportion of seed meat per shell."
PLACEMENT of feed is important, she said, because some birds are ground feeders, like the mourning dove, cardinal and junco, some travel up and down trees, like nuthatches and woodpeckers, and other birds, such as finches, cling to feeders while they eat.
A bag of suet, or animal fat, is popular with the birds that cling as they eat and also is an "extremely efficient food," Riney said. The drawback is that suet and cracked corn attract starlings and house sparrows, two of the less popular varieties among bird watchers, she said.
Safflower seeds are gaining wider use as bird feed because they attract cardinals, chickadees, titmice, house finches and mourning doves, but not marauding squirrels, who apparently find the seeds sour-tasting, Riney said.
NOT ALL birds head south from Lawrence for the winter. Some of the birds that winter in Lawrence have flown south from more northern latitudes.
Purple finches and pine siskin finches, which usually show up every two to four years, have been seen around Lawrence this winter, Riney said.
Other winter birds in Lawrence include cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, titmice, the gold finch and house finch and "three to four kinds of woodpeckers," she said. "And of course, the house sparrow and starling they're all over the place."
Bird watchers also have reported sighting mockingbirds and the Carolina wren, which used to live exclusively in the southeastern U.S. but has expanded its range in recent years, she said.