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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Keep Those Birds Coming Back!

Cedar Waxwings make a brief appearance
I have seen my first bluebird, red-wing black bird, mockingbird and a few robins. Spring is so close but don't stop filling those feeding stations yet.

Returning birds are often insect eaters and must rely on what is available until temperatures warm up enough for the return of available insects.

Migrating cedar waxwings seek out remaining berries still hanging from shrubs such as Winterberry and the various Viburnums. Mockingbirds can be seen pecking at the suet blocks or suet fat.
Bluebird enthusiasts often provide meal worms in a dish or tray to help these cheery little flashes of blue get needed protein until their normal diet can be consumed.

The feed we use consistently is black oil sunflower seeds. These nutritious seeds are a powerhouse of needed fat and protein for a variety of birds, such as the black-cap chickadee, sparrows, cardinals, and finches. Though a common sight during the winter months here is PA, the little juncos have by now begun their journey north to reach their nesting sites.
I add a bit of what is called Flyer's Choice which is a combination of sunflower seeds, safflower, and white millet. Don't bother with the inexpensive feeds with red millet. The birds often just bypass it and knock it out of the feeder. I used to mix cracked corn with the feed for the ground feeders such as mourning doves, but stopped because I just attracted more starlings, who then cleaned me out of suet.

  You can see in the one picture that we also have a small critter feeder in the the crook of a tree as an attempt to keep the squirrels out of the bird feeders. Downy woodpeckers and nuthatches are so neat to watch. Try to continue offering kidney fat suet or suet blocks at least until temperatures warm up and these birds can find hatching larvae and crawling bugs.

Finches love niger or thistle seed which is best offered in thistle feeders which allow them to feed upside down or a thistle sock as shown.

If you supply food, try to offer a water source as well. The heated bird bath pictured was purchased from The Garden Supply catalog but most likely they are offered at any good farm supply store or nursery. You'll need a power outlet, but what is convenient is that this bird bath is made of heavy duty plastic yet isn't that heavy. Therefore, you can move it from wherever you put it in your gardens for the summer months to a place supplying power for the winter. The cord wraps neatly inside the stand when not being used. Birds don't like deep water so I keep a rock in the middle of the bowl for them to have a solid perch. Plus the weight helps keep the bowl from tipping on a windy day.

So you now have food and water provided, but if you want the birds to stick around during nesting season, offer a variety of protected areas of varying type. Offer tall deciduous and evergreen trees, smaller shrubby types which often are safe havens due to intertwining branches or thorns, and tall dense ornamental grasses.

If you own cats or dogs you can make a bird's work a little easier by saving that shedding hair which is so plentiful in the spring when animals shed their undercoat. Another idea for nesting material is to save leftover yarn from craft projects and cut it up into smaller pieces.
Stuff the fur or yarn pieces into some type of mesh bag, sock, suet holder or even an old tube bird feeder missing the perches (the squirrels have chewed through many of mine). In the coming weeks you'll notice the birds pulling out pieces for building their nests. It is neat to know you've helped keep baby birds warm and cozy.

As seen here you don't need a lot of space to provide all this. Here we have meal worms, an orange, suet, and dog hair in the netted bag.

Just try to keep your cats inside. Most critical is during the busy feeding times in the early mornings and at dusk. Once birds sense danger they are less apt to visit your stations.

Soon enough I'll have a glimpse of flitting little hummingbirds with their nervous energy and demanding hunger. Every year I have good intentions to be better at keeping those feeders full of fresh sugar water and giving them proper cleanings in between.

So Happy Spring!
Enjoy the first peek of the Fiddlehead ferns, the bloom of the Forsythia, the arrival of the Swallows; all the little things that served as a reminder that the gray of winter will soon be behind us.

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