At some point in my youth, my mom one day attached a clear suction cup and a clear plastic bird feeder to our kitchen window. Magically, birds began to appear regularly, zooming in and out, snagging the food supplied by mom and then seeking refuge in the nearby birch tree. As winter progressed in upstate New York, new species appeared with bright reds, yellows and blues on their feathers.
I hadn’t thought about these early impressionable nature moments until recently. For years I resisted feeding birds, until just last month on a whim, my wife and I purchased/erected several feeders at both the front and back of our home. WHAM! ACTION! WOW! Literally, within minutes, birds came swooping in to feed. Soon followed the crafty grey squirrels. The bird activity has been spectacular. I was almost late to school one day. I was so mesmerized by all these active, feathered friends – red/white breasted nuthatches, downy/hairy/red-bellied woodpeckers, house/white-throated sparrows, cardinals, titmice, juncos, chickadees, and house finches! We have even had a swift, swooping coopers hawk all around both feeding areas hoping for a live bird meal. I highly recommend setting up your own backyard bird feeding. You’ll never look back!
There are several things to be considered before one begins a bird feeding program. First and foremost, once a feeding program is begun it must be continued without fail until spring. If you go on vacation for even a weekend and neglect to fill your feeders, some birds who have grown to depend on your feeder as a food source may starve to death. The feeders should be located in an area where shrubs or trees close by, so the birds will have adequate protection from the elements and predators. The feeders themselves can be homemade or bought, just as long as they hold seed. It’s helpful if the feeders are covered, so the seeds won’t collect moisture and spoil. There are also feeders designed to be squirrel-proof, for these furry creatures can consume much more seed than the birds at a single sitting. (Note: The first day our squirrels cleverly unhitched the squirrel proof mechanism! Be creative and don’t let those squirrels defeat you!)
As for what to feed the birds, the choice is up to the individual. The standard wild birdseed mix sold in local stores is excellent for attracting a wide variety of birds. We have had great success with this mix and with the sunflower seed to attract the birds I mentioned above. The more discriminating bird-watcher may want to fill a special feeder exclusively with thistle seed, which is extremely attractive to our wintering state bird, the goldfinch. A cake of suet placed in a small hanging cage will attract woodpeckers, as they use the suet as a substitute for the insects that they normally eat. A single feeder will provide hours of enjoyment for the human observer and be very much appreciated by the feathered winter residents.
ALERT! Please join the school community and folks around the country in the Great Backyard Bird Count – Fri. to Mon. President’s Weekend (Feb. 17 – 20). From the comfort of your home, you can view the birds at your feeder and then enter the data online. Scientists at Cornell Univ. use this info to help monitor bird populations. More on this later.
Also, www.birds.cornell.edu is an excellent resource for bird identification and ecology.
This was blog post is part of an ongoing series of nature posts by Teacher Peter Manzelmann, who regularly leads students in nature study and outdoor activities.