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Observer 11/24/14

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Feeding the hungry

Seth Hargett, 10, fills his bird feeder with a mix of sunflower seeds and millet. Once you start feeding birds, its a good idea to keep them stocked through harsh weather. Getting youth involved with feeding wild birds can be a good way to introduce them to the natural world. JIM WARD photo
Seth Hargett, 10, fills his bird feeder with a mix of sunflower seeds and millet. Once you start feeding birds, its a good idea to keep them stocked through harsh weather. Getting youth involved with feeding wild birds can be a good way to introduce them to the natural world. JIM WARD photo

Providing nourishment to our feathered friends is effective way to see birds up close 

Winter is when most bird feeder operators do their thing.

Snow and colder temperatures make birds hungrier.

And while the golf clubs are in the closet, and the fishing pole is on the rack, watching wild critters flit about the yard is a good way to ease the winter doldrums.

Feeding birds is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the nation.

If you’re a novice to feeding birds, a good way to learn is to seek information from neighbors or others who do it.

Seasoned feeder operators are often more than willing to share tips and good advice about their hobby. And, of course, there’s a plethora of books and internet sources that can be helpful.

Feeding birds can be as simple or as complicated as your desire. Certainly, hardcore enthusiasts could enjoy a luxury cruise to a tropical island for what they spend on feeding birds each year — stocking their high-tech, stainless steel/redwood feeders with gourmet suet mixes and exotic seeds and fruits — with a sprinkle of mealworms and crickets.

Other enthusiasts just grab a few handfuls of chicken scratch and scatter a bit in their driveway.

Some folks only feed birds in the winter. Trent Bray, owner of The Bobolink, a bird-watching store in LaGrande, feeds birds all year. Bray has a showcase feeding station in La Grande. He suggests that feeding birds can be helpful during the spring breeding season.

“If birds have nests nearby, a stocked feeder can provide a predictable source of food for nestlings,” he says.

He prefers to keep seeds separate in feeders — not mixing the seeds.

“Feeders with only one kind of seed in each one discourages bullies and focuses certain species to the food they prefer," Bray says.

Bray has baffles on his feeders to keep out squirrels and hawk silhouettes in his windows to discourage birds from hitting windows.

He keeps water heaters in basins to provide needed drink for wintering birds.

He recommends setting up hummingbird feeders around April 1 and suggests taking them down around Sept. 15 to avoid a possible distraction from migration.

Perhaps the first thing to consider once you decide to feed birds is to identify what species you have in your area. Just like you wouldn’t feed hay to a lion or a beefsteak to your horse, certain birds prefer different foods.

As a rule, birds that normally feed on the ground, such as juncos, doves, sparrows and game birds, look for grains like millet, milo, cracked corn and wheat.

Birds that feed in the trees, like finches, grosbeaks and chickadees, prefer offerings such as sunflower seed and Nyger thistle.

Set out apples for the early spring robins and suet for the woodpeckers. Of course, some birds are omnivorous, like jays and magpies, and will eat almost anything.

Just like planting habitat, the key to attracting the greatest number of species is diversity — providing something for all.

Presentation is important when setting up a feeding station. Birds prefer their offerings much like they would forage for wild foods. You’ll have much better luck getting your quail and juncos to eat their grains on the ground, rather than offer it in a funnel-type feeder attached to a pole.

Conversely, chickadees and finches would like their feed in an elevated feeder, and woodpeckers enjoy their suet best when tacked to a tree trunk.

Cleanliness is important at bird feeding stations. Birds can get a number of ailments from contaminated feed or feeders. Moldy grains and dirty feeders can be disastrous.

If possible, feeders should be cleaned often with a diluted mix of bleach and water.

Consider extra feeders — cleaning one while the others are in use.

If you feed on the ground, move your spot often to avoid fecal buildup at the site.

Platform feeders, that allow birds to stand on the seed, aren’t advised. If used, they should be filled only with enough seed for the day and cleaned out.

Many suggest that feeding birds in winter isn’t necessary. Birds did just fine before man came along, and concentrating birds at feeding stations is unnatural.

Others argue that man has altered habitats so much that wintering birds often need extra help to get them through tough times.

Perhaps, there’s a little truth in both camps. Indeed, many studies have revealed that some species are wintering farther north due to human handouts.

I think most of us just enjoy the birds in close proximity. We like sharing our excitement with family and friends and get a good feeling from helping wild critters in need.



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