Gardening isn’t the only hobby which is booming during the pandemic. Sales of bird feeders and related supplies also have taken wing. If you haven’t joined in the “feeding frenzy” yet, this month is a good time to start.
As U. S. Representative John Porter noted, when he proclaimed February “National Bird Feeding Month" in 1992, it can be “one of the most difficult months in the United States for wild birds.” They often are at their hungriest then, through their natural supplies of seeds and fruits being nearly depleted with spring not yet in sight. And, due to recent decreases in songbird populations, we want to help as many of them as we can.
You don’t have to be an expert to derive enjoyment from the activity. I’ve been feeding birds for years with only one small, cabin-style feeder and a suet feeder. And, though I can pick out the more obvious avians, such as cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers, many of the others are just the “little brown ones” to me. Sparrows and etcetera!
Still, when I pass through the living room during winter, I almost always pause at our large front window to enjoy the flutter of activity around and beneath the feeder. It provides encouraging signs of life when everything else looks dead and drab.
Shutting Down the Buffet in the Spring
After the snow appears to be over in spring, I’ll begin tailing off a bit, not filling the feeders as often to clue the birds that they’d better start looking for grub—or grubs!— elsewhere. Then, once I run out of seed, I quit feeding until late autumn.
That’s my way of encouraging my feathered friends to chow down on the insect pests in my gardens instead, though I have to admit that they also consume a good percentage of our summer berries as well. And, in late summer and early autumn, they eat sunflower seeds straight from the flowers that produce them. Theoretically, I should harvest those myself, so I don’t have to buy as many, but somehow I never get around to doing that.
Opening for Business in Autumn
In late autumn, about the time the forecast begins to threaten snow, I bring the feeder out from wherever I’ve stashed it during summer and wash it in a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. I then allow it to dry thoroughly before I fill it.
My current method of stocking up is to buy one 40-pound bag of black sunflower seeds then, plus one 20-pound bag of mixed seed. That includes millet, of which our free-ranging guineas and other ground-feeding birds such as juncoes, sparrows, and doves are fond. (You’ll want to avoid any mix which contains mostly wheat and oats, since wild birds prefer other grains.)
I then combine the two types of seed and store them in a large crock on our porch, covering that crock with an old toilet seat to keep out mice. (A covered garbage can makes a good substitute for the crock.)
Location, Location, Location!
Because we have plenty of felines on the farm, I hang the feeders from the limb of a maple in an open space at the edge of the lawn, where the birds can spot any “puddy-tats” quite a distance away. Fortunately, we usually don’t have squirrels that close to the house. If you do, you’ll probably want to put your feeder on a post far from trees with a squirrel baffle beneath it.
Black bears also have become a problem hereabouts. However, they den up during winter. So, if you only feed birds for about four months from late November to the beginning of April, you shouldn’t have a problem with bruins bearing down on your feeders.
Seeding Time at the Zoo
I usually fill my cabin-type feeder once a day, sometimes twice when the weather is especially cold, scattering some seed on the ground each time. Our birds also go through about one cake of suet per week.
Once the first batch of seed runs out after a couple months, I purchase another batch to last me until spring. A month or so after I retire the bird feeder for the summer, I bring out the hummingbird feeder to hang from a hook on the front porch. And that’s all there is to it!
The Fruit and Nuts Brigade
As Porter concluded “Feeding wild birds in the backyard is an easy hobby to start and need not overtax the family budget.“ If you become fascinated enough to want to attract more species, you always can begin purchasing more expensive types of seed, such as thistle, and, perhaps, a heated bird bath. You also can begin setting out special treats, such as peanuts for jays or—during spring—fruit for orioles.
If I ever become independently wealthy, I'll be happy to add such items to my routine. But, in the meantime, the birds and I are happy with our mutual aid agreement!
Photos: The cardinals photo is by SherzzzNikon, the woodpecker image by linthicum, the blue jay image by onewish1, the titmouse image by debi_k, and the oriole image by dellrose, all from the Dave's Garden BirdFiles.