When it snows, birds flock to the feeders
It's about time for the first significant snow of the year and my bird feeders are bustling with activity. The cardinals, jays, juncos and finches have been power feeding in advance of the weather for the last 48 hours. I've been providing a high quality songbird seed mix that includes shelled peanuts and cracked corn along with sunflower and other seeds that are attractive to my feathered friends. I have a couple of platform feeders and several hanging ones, so I thought things were in good shape to keep 'my' birds satisfied. I'm fortunate to have a wide range of species in my area and it isn't uncommon to see goldfinches, cardinals, juncos, titmice, white-crowned sparrows, Eastern towhees, bluejays, mockingbirds and yellow-bellied sapsuckers all looking for a place at the table.
Here's the National Audubon Society bird guide that has been updated with conservation status and climate change information. Even if you have an older edition, this one is well worth adding to your collection.
Bully birds discourage timid birds from feeding
I like it when snow has been falling since the pre-dawn hours and the ground is covered several inches deep. I poured my morning cup of coffee and glanced out to see who might already be having a morning meal and was horrified at the mass of blackbirds swarming my feeders, the ground and the bushes. They were gobbling down every scrap of seed they could reach while my sad little cardinals and shy juncos were sitting on the sidelines looking pitiful and hungry. While I sympathize for the blackbirds, they are being bullies and I needed to level the playing field. That meant that I had to venture out in the cold as well.
Know what each bird species prefers for food
It is common knowledge that different species of birds prefer a wide range of assorted foods and learning their likes and dislikes helps maintain equality at the feeding stations. I don't want to completely banish the blackbirds, they are a varied group that even includes red-winged blackbirds, a songbird that finds its habitat dwindling every day. Making some adjustments was necessary. The problem is, a number of species band together in huge mobs that can wipe out all of the feed in a matter of minutes. At least there were no starlings in this group. They're the rats of the bird-world and this invasive species should be discouraged at every chance.
Set up an alternate feeding station for the bullies
For the remainder of this storm, I moved one station to the other side of the house and kept them all filled.Knowing common feeding habits is something everyone needs to learn. It can make a huge difference in the situation. I also threw some seed under my platform container gardens next to the house, since blackbirds tend to avoid going underneath anything to search for food. The blackbirds prefer to have all of their friends nearby as they feed as well, so they left the solitary station to the cardinals and finches. When the snow melted enough to get to town, I took care of the rest of the problem.
Change the type of seed you offer
Safflower seed is an oil-rich seed that appeals to cardinals, finches and other songbirds, however, blackbirds, starlings and even squirrels find it distasteful. So those of you with squirrel problems take note of this. It is a little more expensive than the mix that I usually buy that includes black-oil sunflower seed and shelled peanuts, but I considered it cost savings by not having that mix gobbled down like candy. I filled all but one of my feeders with the safflower seed and left the lone platform feeder filled with the mix that the blackbirds prefer. I moved that feeder further away from the others and hoped that this tactic would prove successful. The blackbirds checked out all of the feeders and even threw a little of the safflower seed on the ground, hoping for something more to their liking underneath. They eventually migrated over to their designated feeder and continued their gluttony. My more polite birds were able resume their banquet undisturbed. Blackbirds occasionally drifted over to the other feeders, but quickly returned to their assigned buffet. There was peace at last.
Identify the birds that visit
If the bullies were starlings, I would have removed all seed that wasn't safflower, hoping that would encourage them to move elsewhere. Generally, they do move on and you can resume feeding the black oil sunflower seed or the songbird mixes. Just remember, if the bullies return, to only offer seed that they do not like. Knowing which birds visit your feeders helps you adjust the food you offer. Birdwatching is one of the top activities enjoyed around the world. The attraction is universal and even educational for the kiddos. Feeding birds in the winter gives us a chance to observe them much closer than at other times of the year and also helps them out when food is scarce.
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