Winter is for the birds.
They come for the food, and, in some cases, for the hospitality, as well.
Joyce Hall has been fascinated with birds since she was a child and watched them as she walked home from school.
Hall, 67, is a founding member of the Fresno, Calif., chapter of the Audubon Society. For the last four years she has been feeding and counting birds in her back yard as a participant in Project FeederWatch program of Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology. Data is entered onto the project's Web site and is used to study bird populations and movement.
"They don't need my food," Hall says of the birds. "They can find it without my feeders, but I feed them because I like them to gather in my yard so I can watch them. It's purely selfish."
Kris McNew also participates in the Cornell program, which lasts November-April. Like Hall, McNew, 38, has been a friend of birds since he was a child living.
Hall and he have a variety of feeders in their yards and spend nearly $1,000 a year for feed, attracting mostly house finches, juncos, white crown sparrows, robins and nuthatches. Mourning doves -- as many as 200 of them -- visit McNew's yard.
Two major pieces of advice from Hall and McNew:
- If you feed birds, provide water for them.
- Clean feeders regularly to keep the birds from getting sick and from passing around diseases.
Feeders can be categorized into these types:
- Tube: Often made of plastic and designed with extra-small openings to dispense tiny thistle seeds and keeps seed fairly dry. It also has multiple feeding ports and perches. Short perches accommodate small birds such as finches, but exclude larger birds such as jays. Cost: $5-$45.
- Tray or platform: Can have a roof or not and should have holes in bottom to drain rain. The feeder may be attached to a pole or rest on short legs near the ground. Juncos, sparrows and doves are attracted to the low feeder. Cost: $15.
- Hopper: Has a roof and walls, with food coming out the bottom onto a platform. The food inside is pretty well protected from weather but needs to be checked often because food can get damp and moldy. Small birds such as chickadees and larger birds such as jays are attracted to this feeder. Cost: $5-$44.
- Hummingbird: Can be a bottle or tube constructed of glass or plastic. Some are decorated with red to attract hummingbirds. Most are easy to disassemble because they need to be washed frequently. Cost: $5-$30.
- Suet: A wire mesh cage or a mesh onion bag can be filled with suet. Cost: $5-$20.
- Make your own: Besides smearing pine cones and half-gallon size milk cartons with feed and hanging them in trees, McNew says some folks have made feeders out of scrap lumber, moose antlers and tree bark. Use a spread made from peanut butter, corn meal and suet mix.
"Avoid sharp edges that can harm birds," he says, "and crevices in which they can be trapped."
What to feed birds really isn't that complicated, says McNew. To attract certain birds, you'll need certain foods. But some birds, such as jays, are not particular and will eat food from multiple feeders.
The best all-around food, McNew says, is black-oil sunflower seed.