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It’s in your nature: Feeding the winter birds

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    White-throated sparrows, winter visitors to our region, prefer to feed on the ground usually close to “cover.”

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    Hanging tray feeders with screened bottoms allow seeds to dry and even ground feeding birds will use them.

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    Juncos normally feed on the ground, so scatter some of your bird seed there.

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    A male goldfinch, photographed on March 3 last year, still sports much of its winter plumage.

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    All woodpeckers, including this downy woodpecker, feast on suet, whether it is in a hardware cloth homemade version or a purchased suet holder. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published December 22. 2018 07:12AM


Bird feeding has certainly grown in popularity. Hardware stores, big chain stores, even supermarkets have made a variety of bird feeds available to an ever growing number of birding enthusiasts. I will try to offer some helpful hints or ideas on feeding birds and doing it more effectively. I hope this information may help you and help the birds as well.

First, an advisory to those of you who may be feeding birds in black bear habitat areas. Bears love black oil sunflower seeds and may make regular nightly visits to raid your feeders. Bears are generally fearful of human contact, but their love of those seeds can make them more fearless. If you can remove your feeders nightly, it will help keep them away.

However, if you look at the ground under your feeders you’ll know that birds will drop many uneaten seeds, and these still tempt bears. A second advisory: a few people I know have had attic visitors (flying squirrels) that seem to be able to find openings in gables or eaves and can take up residence there. They are more common than you realize, and you can inadvertently be inviting them in.

I have been feeding birds since I was a youngster. The joy of seeing a variety of winter birds and knowing I have made their survival more likely has more than made up for any possible “side effects.”

Black oil sunflower seeds are probably the best overall food for birds. You can use tube feeders, hopper feeders or scatter seeds on the ground. Cardinals, jays, sparrows, mourning doves will all eat them. Chickadees and nuthatches will slip into a feeder, grab a single seed, and fly off to open them on a branch, sometimes 30 or 40 yards away. A blue jay will “bust in” to a feeder, chase off the others feeding there, and them gobble down a dozen seeds before flying off.

The usual ground feeding birds such as juncos, song and white-throated sparrows, will grab a seed and eventually crack it open until reaching the fatty kernel inside. These are the birds which leave a layer of sunflower hulls on the ground. If you don’t like the “mess” on the ground, sunflower hearts can be purchased to avoid the ground litter.

I use the following to entice birds: Black oil sunflower seeds, some cracked corn, a little wild bird seed mix, Nyjer seeds and suet. Suet is an excellent food for “your” birds. I visit a supermarket that has a meat packaging section and order beef suet. I cut up sandwich-size chunks and bag and freeze them. You can then thaw out a small chunk of suet to fill a wire suet feeder or one made of hardware cloth. Chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, and all the winter resident woodpecker species get sizable caloric benefit from suet. An alternative is to purchase suet blocks with rendered fat containing a variety of seeds.

Thistle eating birds include: American goldfinches, pine siskins and house finches. Tube feeders with multiple thin slots can feed six or eight of these birds at one time. Watching them feed can be quite a treat. Peanuts are craved by blue jays, however your budget may not allow you to add these to your buffet. Also, if you have squirrels visiting, they will eat more than the birds you want to feed.

I generally feed birds from late October until the first week of May. By late March most of the winter birds have moved northward, but the chance of attracting May arrivals, rose-breasted grosbeaks or indigo buntings, is worth “filling the feeders a little longer.”

Test your outdoor knowledge: Feeding your songbirds will also attract some raptors. The most likely raptor is: A. Cooper’s hawk, B. red-tailed hawk, C. broad-winged hawk, D. peregrine falcon

Last week’s trivia answer: The average weight of a bobcat is about 20 pounds.

Contact Barry Reed at





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