Feeding Birds through the Seasons

 Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

(7/28) I really enjoy watching the birds in my backyard. I enjoy getting up early to hear them sing with a cup of coffee on my deck. I wonder if they always wake up happy or do they just sing because thatís what birds do? I know one thing Ė it makes me happy just listening!

I donít work very hard to entice the birds but am rewarded many times over with their visits. Some of my favorite birds are those that come to the suet cakes Ė especially the many different woodpeckers. And when the mulberry trees produce tasty berries, the trees seem to be alive with all types of birds, and squirrels too. The mulberry season usually lasts 4 weeks and is a veritable stage for all their antics.

Some birders actually collect wild berries during the growing season, then put them in the freezer to feed on cold winter days. What a treat for berry-loving birds at this unusual time of year. If you are interested in watching this phenomenon, think about pokeberries, wild grapes, or even sumac fruits.

This year we have more cardinals than I remember seeing for a long time. They are drawn to the sunflower seed feeders in my backyard. I expect that the cardinals have their nests nearby our deck but I havenít seen the actual nest anywhere. And the goldfinches seem to be everywhere this year Ė sometimes hanging onto the tall thistles growing in the fields, ripe with their favorite morsels.

While recently reading about feeding the birds, I came across an article in Bird Watcherís Digest that listed some of the weirdest things to feed birds. Some of these ideas on their list may be well-known among serious birders, but some are really "out there".

Have you ever brought roadkill to your backyard to attract hawks? How about meat scraps? Well there are apparently backyard birders who practice these tricks to attract birds Ė and I would imagine they attract other critters as well. One word of caution - be very careful about what you "put out" because you donít know what you might "get in"! I know that roadkill is off the list for me!

Grape jelly is favored by woodpeckers and orioles and some other birds as well. Consider offering a spoonful in a shallow dish or on a jar lid. The sugar content is good for high energy but donít overdo it. Remember that too much artificial food coloring isnít good for any of us, and we donít know how much coloring is added to a purchased jelly product. You can control that with homemade jams and jellies.

Birds love nuts and stale nuts from the cupboard suit them most of the time. If the birds are not consuming the nuts, however, they may have aged to become too strong-tasting, even for the birds!

Birds can use extra calcium in their diets during the nesting season, and also during the winter. Save eggshells from breakfast, rinse them and place in a shallow pan for 20 minutes at 250 degrees. This guards against wild birds getting a harmful bacterium from domestic chickens. Crush shells and scatter.

Think about providing grit for their gizzards. Seed-eating birds have a muscular stomach to break down the seeds in their diet. Tiny stones or sand aid in this process and can be introduced on the ground or in small platform feeders. Grit stays in the gizzard and helps to aid in processing the seeds that birds eat.

This year, when cleaning out melons, add the seeds and debris from inside to your compost pile. Watch the birds that are attracted. Be aware of those that sprout if you want to discard them before they create a seedling problem in your compost. The same is true of "pumpkin guts"; birds love to pick through what you discard for the seeds.

And finally, you can mail-order mealworms in bulk if you donít want to purchase them dried at your local birding store. I often put dried mealworms out for the bluebirds at my house. They attract all kinds of birds, but I know the bluebirds hang around for this yummy snack. Think about not only bluebirds, but also Carolina wrens, downy woodpeckers, cardinals, titmice, and nuthatches. If using live mealworms, be sure to use a shallow pan with slippery sides so that they donít escape!

Hopefully, a few of these ideas will help to spice up your backyard birding. We often hear that we should "stop and smell the roses" in our daily lives. I think that is great advice. I would add to that "stop and watch the birds". Listen to their songs and see what it does to help manage your stress level!

Read other articles on birds, wildlife & beneficial insects

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