Purple Finches and Evening Grosbeaks. English Sparrows and Blue Jays. Black-capped Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers. Cardinals and Robins.
Sooner or later, they’ll likely show up at your backyard bird feeders.
Whether bird feeding is helpful or harmful to birds has been the subject of much debate.
No scientific evidence supports the claim that bird feeding affects the population of any species in any significant way, except to concentrate some birds locally where we want them—around our homes.
Nature is simply too abundant with its resources even in the harsh days of winter to make any wildlife creatures count on us as their sole support.
According to statistics by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service some 52 million Americans over the age of 16 feed wild birds, spending an estimated $2.7 million on feed and another $832 million on feeders, houses, water-warmers and other foods and accessories, an increase of 16 percent from five years ago.
It is a way to invite the natural world in where you can experience it, according to Cindy Vance of Cool Ridge. “Birds are not a very threatening form of wildlife,” she says. “They’re beautiful, graceful and they don’t generally cause too many problems.”
Cindy and her husband Pat Vance provide several feeders for their feathered friends, including one located on the windowsill of the family room, where the couple can watch the visitors feed without fear from predators.
Birdhouses also have become chic decorating items for porch scenes as well as for outdoor housing for the birds.
Once you start feeding, however don’t stop. “Birds become dependent on your food sources,” Vance explains. “Especially if there is a heavy blanket of snow covering natural food sources.”
Along with consistency, cleanliness is important at the feeding-station. Moldy, spoiled food can be dangerous to birds and, if it is left scattered on the ground, it can attract pests, such as rodents.
Feeding birds brings the beauty and wildness of nature up close, easily and at little expense. Indeed, the variety of color and drama could scarcely be found in the wild.
Children and adults alike are fascinated by watching birds at feeders.
The interest of many professional naturalists was first sparked by such first-hand observation of how the natural world works.
A wide variety of foods can be added to suet, seed, grains, and grit, including nutmeats, fruit (fresh, frozen, or dried), many baked goods, and certain table scraps.
Fruits that are especially loved by birds include apples (raw or baked), apricots, bananas, blueberries, cherries (wild or domestic), cranberries, dates, crab apples, prunes, figs, grapes, oranges, peaches, pears, raisins, strawberries, and watermelon.
Peanut butter mix is considered by many to be an essential ingredient in any bird-feeding program, because birds love it and it’s a convenient way to provide high-quality protein and fat.
Except for suet and composite blocks designed to be pecked (as well as some fruits) all foods presented to birds should be offered in tiny bite-size pieces.
The feeder and its placement should help prevent attacks from predators and food raids by other less desirable creatures, such as rats and mice.
Food presentation is nearly as important as the kind of food being offered. You can start by putting up a bird feeder and some bird seed.
Different kinds of food will attract different kinds of birds.
The seed mixes sold in grocery stores will often attract native sparrows; sunflower seeds will attract cardinals, blue jays, and goldfinches; thistle seed is famous for attracting house finches.
Put out suet and you’ll attract woodpeckers and nuthatches and chickadees.
So, if you haven’t started putting food out to attract birds to your backyard, it’s not too late. It’s never too late to launch a feeding program for avian visitors.
It’s just that now is a good time to begin. And the birds dig it, too.
“The hardest thing for some people is simply getting started,” Vance says as she puts another handful of seeds in the container just outside her window. “But the first time you see birds at your feeder, you’re hooked.
“You can stand there and watch birds for an hour and never get tired. It’s happened to me.”
Top o’ the morning!