By Bruce Stambaugh
Feeding birds is easy, and fall is a great time to start. In fact, if you follow some simple but basic birding steps, you can attract returning migrants and hungry year-round residents to any backyard environment.
Keep in mind that different birds have different feeding habits and nutritional needs. Varying the style of the feeders, the kind of bird food used in each, and the feeders’ placement can greatly determine the popularity of your feeders.
1. Identify your habitat
Once you decide to feed birds, it’s important to know what habitat you are in and establish the right feeders with the appropriate feed. Hanging out suet on a balcony in the city most likely won’t attract the desired birds. Doing so in the country or a loosely wooded backyard can yield great rewards.
Feeders placed in grassy suburban backyards or rural settings have the chance to attract the biggest variety of birds. Feeders should be placed where they can be easily observed through a window in your home, and stocked and maintained with the appropriate feed.
2. Select your feeders
The key to successful feeding is to pick the correct feeder or feeders for your situation. A backyard that has even a small grassy opening surrounded by hedges, shrubs fields or trees may be perfect for every kind of bird feeding style. Feeders don’t have to be complicated or expensive either.
Even the top of an old stump can serve as an excellent feeding station for birds.
A simple piece of plywood placed on some bricks or small cement blocks would serve as a nice platform feeder for birds that prefer to feed at ground level. A hopper feeder could be hung from a porch overhang or a firmly planted shepherd’s hook. A hanging feeder, such as an empty mesh citrus sack, could hold high protein suet for birds that can cling to what they are eating.
Place the feeders where they will attract the most birds and are easily observed from the safety and warmth of your home. Placing a hanging feeder or a shelf feeder on your windowsill will bring the birds right to you.
3. Keep the feeders filled
Once you start to feed the birds, keep at it, even if it takes the birds awhile to find your offerings. The feeders need to be kept filled, too. The ground feeder could be mixed wild birdseed or simply cracked corn spread out.
Keeping feeders filled with seeds the birds like is critical to consistently attracting birds.
Stock hopper and hanging feeders with black oil sunflower seeds which many bird species enjoy. Thistle feeders are also popular with many species of birds in northern Ohio.
Suet feeders can be fat from the butcher, or you can either make or purchase cakes of suet that are loaded with peanuts and seeds. Those fit well into square wire feeders.
4. Keep them cleaned
In addition to keeping the feeders full, it is critical that the feeders be attended to at least weekly. Even in cold weather, mold and disease can spread from uncared for feeders. Moisture can cause seed residue to crust, creating a potentially unhealthy situation for the birds.
Clean out any clogged holes in hanging or hopper feeders and make sure the seeds appear properly. Clear away any accumulated material. Tray feeders and even the bare ground should be raked periodically to remove spent seed hulls and bird droppings. Suet feeders should be checked for any signs of decay or mold.
5. Keep a record
A good pair of binoculars, when used properly, can enhance birdwatching.
For most birders, keeping track of what is seen is half the fun. Again, this is not a difficult or time-consuming task. Keep a notebook and pencil handy and record the day, time, weather, and type of bird you saw. You will be surprised how quickly the number of species adds up on your yard list. Do this annually and you will have an accurate and personal record of what birds you saw, when and under what conditions.
A good bird guide is also an essential tool. Easy to use bird books are available at area shops and bookstores. Having a good pair of binoculars can enhance your bird viewing, too. After all, watching the birds eat is the main objective.
Putting up feeders, keeping them filled and cleaned, and keeping track of what you saw is a wonderful way to pleasantly pass the time when the weather outside is frightful. The birds need the food, and with a front row seat you will be glad for the variety of aviary entertainment without having to go out into the elements yourself.
This story first appeared in Around the House.
Feeding birds sometimes brings pretty surprises, like a hungry Eastern Bluebird.