FEEDING THE BIRDS
Moving from the Rocky Mountains to the Lone Star State and then to Boston, the landscape transforms from glaciers with spectacular peaks and valleys, to a rolling plateau dotted with mesquite trees and cacti, to the Shawmut Peninsula with miles of coastline and whale travelled seascapes. A journey from one geographic region to another brings other unexpected, welcome changes that may take a bit longer to notice and appreciate. Birds with their different songs and calls, colors, sizes, and nesting habits become old distinguishable friends only after a spell of serious attention to detail made possible with food bribery.
Identifying backyard birds and their songs may be hobby for some, but much of the pleasure comes from the visual beauty created by colorful creatures dipping and twirling around the bird feeders and resting in nearby trees. The winters can be long in New England and native birds willing to tough out the extended cold months provide a colorful distraction to the naked trees, brown grass, and drab gray backdrop of the sky. One thing experience has taught me is that if you feed them, they will come.
Just before the first frost and soon after the autumnal equinox, the bird feeders are scrubbed, filled and hung strategically around the garden. The Brome 1024 Squirrel Buster Plus with Cardinal Perch Ring is easy to disassemble and reassemble after a pass through the dishwasher. This feeder also comes in a smaller size, but the five pound capacity makes it possible to avoid constantly refilling it. For suet, the Droll Yankees SF-Double Suet Feeder also has a large capacity and lifetime warranty from DBS (destruction by squirrels). While it is a myth that feeding birds throughout the spring and summer will cause them to lose their migratory instincts, feeding birds when there is an abundance of naturally growing food sources may be an unnecessary expense. Birds migrate due to a change in the number of hours of daylight rather than a noticeable change in food availability. Continuing to feed winged creatures in the summer, however, may coax more birds to build their nests in the garden. Feeding young also requires extraordinary energy reserves, so be assured any buffet left hanging will be shared with yet to fly young dependent on their mother's for food.
Different varieties of seeds and nuts attract different species of birds. From September to March, my bird feeders attract black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, American tree sparrows, cardinals, cedar waxwings, eastern bluebirds, sparrows, nuthatches, and tufted titmice. When winter storms blast New England with heavy winds and snow—nearly ten feet last year—bird feeders become an important survival tool for native birds. On particularly stormy evenings, a bird loses as much as 10 percent of its body weight. Bird feeders filled with high energy food such as nuts and suet help mitigate body mass loss and increase chances of survival. Birds flock to the feeders nearest the house where the birds find shelter from high winds while they feast. With summer’s nuisance starlings and blue jays on vacation, many species share the feeders nicely and take turns on the squirrel proof feeders.
Three types of food attract the greatest variety of feathered friends to the bird feeders. In the largest feeder, Just Desserts, a no filler, no mess (shelled sunflower seeds) premium high protein blend, attracts the most birds. If starlings or blue jays become a nuisance, just put the feeder away for a week or two. With any luck, they will move on and squawk in someone else’s territory. Some supermarket bird seed has 10 percent or more of waste seed. Most birds will leave behind these fillers and they do make a mess of the ground around the feeder. For suet, several species will come if the suet is a high quality fruit, nut, and seed cake. Pine Tree Farms sells one at many gardening centers for $6.99 for two pounds—this is one item better bought in a brick and mortar shop as internet sites may more than double the price of suet. Finally, to fill out the bird smorgasbord, nyjer seed remains the food of choice for smaller songbirds, sparrows, and finches. In winter, nyjer provides a higher oil and calorie content than many other bird seed blend options and has the added benefit of helping molting birds recover from feather loss more quickly. Place a bird feeder filled with nyjer in a place in which the leftover hulls won’t create a bothersome mess—there just isn’t any way to buy this food hulled.
If squirrels are a problem, invest in a squirrel proof feeder such as the Squirrel Buster. Many of these feeders are designed to unload, flip and foil any squirrel’s attempt to pilfer bird seed. In addition to saving expensive on seed, these types of feeders allow for squirrel acrobatics and an entertaining, albeit, unsuccessful circus in which rodents meet technological defeat.