Western Pennsylvania is having a mild winter. This weather anomaly has made me forgot about feeding the wild birds, not that they need the handout. Wild birds survive just fine left on their own but I like seeing them in my yard and darting from the woods to the feeders.
A few days ago I went to the store to buy bird food. In the past there have been a few choices in bird seed. This year the varieties and combinations of seeds have left me at a loss. Do I buy the bags that also contain fruit or nuts?
Often the bags show pictures of the type of birds who would eat the seeds inside the bag. I began to wonder if these birds wintered in PA. Most of the birds I knew but there were a few I wasn’t sure about. Then there were the suet mixtures. Hot pepper? I think that flavor might be to discourage squirrels from raiding the bird feeder.
I bought a few bags of seed and went home to do some research. What kind of seeds should I be buying? I should have done the research first… On the website Beauty of Birds, and a few others, I found a lot of good information for backyard bird watchers.
So, where to start? Here is a good question to ask yourself. What kind of birds do you want to attract? Nyjer seeds attract finches. Cardinals and Blue Jays like sunflower seeds. I bought a seed and nut mix that advertised it was a favorite of woodpeckers. My husband saw the bag and ask why? We have had trouble with woodpeckers in the past. My mom considers them enemy number one. She spent several years trying to deter woodpeckers from putting holes in the side of her house. Last fall she covered her home in aluminum siding. The birds moved on and are most likely terrorizing some other wooden structure right this minute.
I also read that there is a danger in putting out a wide variety of bird foods. Birds can pass diseases in their droppings, they fight (some species don’t mix well with others) and chaos ensues. I bought a crazy mix of seeds, bird anarchy in the near future.
I was also wondering if all these new gourmet mixes of seeds, nuts and berries were a gimmick. The websites didn’t seem to think so, they just warned that feeding the birds can turn into an expensive endeavor. I have a store receipt to back up this claim.
The most interesting thing I learned was that the feeders need to be kept clean. Molded seeds and bird poop will make the birds ill. Makes perfect sense but I have to admit I never gave those things much thought. Wild birds are tough and they don’t “live” at the feeders so why do any housekeeping? The weather will be warm this week so I plan give my bird feeder some TLC.
I got a chuckle out of seeing the information on keeping squirrels out of bird feeders. (Do a Google Search on squirrels in bird feeders, laughs for days) One site suggested giving in and putting up a squirrel feeding station. (A voice of reason)
I don’t mind the squirrels in the bird feeder but my dogs have zero tolerance for them. Our bird feeder is surrounded by trees (escape routes) so the dogs never have a chance to get anywhere near the bushy tailed visitors.
After the squirrel advice came some thoughts on cats. One site had all the usual propaganda about keeping cats indoors. Cat’s are the main threat to birds. True. Cat’s live longer, are healthier and are safe from harm if they stay in the house. All true. I live in the country and let my cats outside whenever they want.
Occasionally there is a dead bird on my front porch, more likely I find a dead rodent of some type outside the front door. These gifts are given to me by my “death squad.” (They love me) I know each time they go outside there is a slim chance something could happen to one of my dear pets but keeping them cooped up all the time seems cruel to me. If I lived in town with close neighbors and traffic I would keep them indoors for sure.
Today I’m putting out a variety of bird seeds and suet, they will attract a wide cross section of birds. The seeds, nuts and dried fruit will no doubt attract squirrels.
I mean this most sincerely, my intentions were good. I know, that’s how unfortunate incidents often start out. Basically I bought a large assortment of food that will attract rival bird groups. I also have major squirrel bait sitting out in the open. Mix in two dogs and four cats. A backyard rumble is brewing! And to think, all I did was buy a few bags of bird seed.
by Jill Eudaly
photos by Jill Eudaly