Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
January, 2001
Regional Report

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One of the most common birds at feeders is the house finch. It is distinguished from the less common purple finch by its straight tail and lack of a white eyebrow.

Better Birdfeeding

Feeding wild birds is second only to gardening as the most popular hobby in North America. No doubt filling feeders and watching birds has kept me from going stir-crazy during this winter of abnormally low temperatures and extended periods of snow-covered ground.

Easy Bird Feeding

One reason birdfeeding is so popular is its simplicity. A basic birdfeeder is inexpensive and widely available at department stores. A larger selection is usually found at garden centers and specialty stores and online. Even though the feeders are simple, there are ways to maximize the number and types of birds that visit your yard.

What Birds Want

Just as I pick the cashews out of the can of mixed nuts, birds pick out their favorite tidbits in seed mixes. It's therefore best to offer only one kind of seed in a feeder rather than a mix. To reduces the mess of unwanted, dropped seeds around the feeder. To attract the greatest variety of birds, hang several feeders, each with a different kind of seed. If you can offer only one kind of seed, however, it should be sunflower seed, since many birds like it.

Sunflower Alternatives

Sunflower is the most popular seed, but different birds have different preferences. Millet is favored by finches, sparrows, juncos, blackbirds, and doves. Cardinals go for safflower seeds. Thistle seed in a special feeder with extra-small feeding holes is a magnet for goldfinches. Suet (hard, white fat sold in grocery stores) is eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees. Cracked corn, peanuts, apples, and raisins also attract a variety of birds. Birds even like cheese, cereal, berries, and pumpkin and squash seeds. Be sure to store all bird food in a clean, dry place so that it doesn't get moldy.

Where to Place the Feeder

Place feeders where they're easily seen, such as outside a kitchen, dining room, or office window. You'll get the most birds if trees and shrubs are 5-12 feet away from the feeder, since the birds will be protected from predators and will perch there between trips to the feeder. Feeders can be hung from branches, eaves, or poles. For the most fun, provide multiple feeding stations in different areas of your yard.

Don't Forget Water

Water is every bit as important as food for birds, and they need fresh water every day. The water source can be as simple as a large plastic plant saucer. Put it on the ground and keep it filled with fresh water daily. When weather is freezing, have two that can be alternated, one thawing out indoors while the other has yet to freeze outside.

Preventing Squirrel Invasions

Early every morning the birds are at my feeder. After a couple of hours a big fat squirrel shows up and eats for about 15 minutes. Finally, the birds chase him off, so everyone remains happy. But if the squirrel seems to be winning out in your yard, consider placing a baffle (metal sheet wrapped around the pole) below the feeder or getting a special feeder designed to keep squirrels out. Another option is to provide a feeder specifically for the squirrels, fitted out with dried corn still on the cob and located away from the other feeders.

Window Hazard

A great hazard to birds are windows. Over 50 percent of bird deaths around houses are caused by birds accidentally striking windows. To help prevent this, put black plastic silhouettes of birds on your windows so the real birds know the window is there. These are available at bird supply stores and help real birds understand you can't fly through windows.

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