Column: Advanced bird feeding

Published 1:32 pm Thursday, January 5, 2006

By Staff
If there's one thing the regular readers of this column seem to have in common, it's a passion for feeding birds.
If you're sensible, you just have a simple bird feeder filled with mixed bird seed from the grocery store. At some point, though, it's likely the urge will set in to leave the ranks of sensibility and go beyond Basic Bird Feeding 101. Here are a few tips for when that time comes.
I run a number of feeders, each targeting certain species. Many birds prefer to eat off the ground. These would include juncos, mourning doves, starlings and most of the native sparrow species such as tree sparrows, song sparrows and chipping sparrows. Their food of choice seems to be mixed bird seed, which is mostly cracked corn with some other seeds thrown in for good measure. The problem is that just scattering the stuff on the ground is terribly wasteful. Invariably, it's soon covered by snow or washed into the grass and dirt by rain. Birds also prefer their cereal crispy, not soggy, so unless they're desperate, they won't eat the wet stuff. It's also nigh on to impossible to clean the shunned food up, leaving a lawn of corn mush.
The answer is to make a slightly elevated platform. I use a piece of exterior plywood laid on concrete blocks. The height doesn't seem to matter much, they just like to stand on something flat. The size depends on how much you're willing to invest in seed. Obviously, the larger the platform, the more birds it can accommodate but the more seed it takes.
If it snows, you can clear enough snow off to expose the seed. If it rains, the mush can be scooped off and discarded. Of course, most ground feeding birds will utilize standard feeders but you'll get a lot more this way.
Next, is a thistle seed feeder for goldfinches. The finches prefer the cloth mesh bags but the bats dump copious amounts of seed onto the ground. The seed also gets soaked with each rain and can soon rot. I've recently switched to a hanging plastic tube with just tiny access slits. A unique trait of goldfinches is they can feed upside down so the slits are below the perches. This precludes raiding by other birds such as house finches.
Not that the other birds go starving…the next two feeders are for them. These are just regular feeders mounted on poles with disc squirrel guards. One is stoked with sunflower seed which draws cardinals, titmice and nuthatches like a bird magnet. The other has the aforementioned mixed bird seed. I use those containing the least amount of sunflower seed for I already have that base covered. The bird seed mixture is the staple for house and purple finches, house sparrows and blue jays. It's also much used by goldfinches and the sunflower eating birds. A neat trick for pole mounted feeders is to wire to the pole a small sapling tree with near horizontal branches. The birds love to first light on the branches, then hop onto the feeder. It also lends a more natural look for your bird feeder garden
Then come the suet baskets. These beckon the various woodpeckers, blue jays, nuthatches, brown creepers and even some juncos with a carnivorous streak. I use the wire baskets and commercial suet cakes. I use a stout, rough barked limb stuck in the ground just outside the patio doors with the baskets screwed to it. The cakes come in various flavors and mixtures. Here at our diner, the orange flavored cakes rule, followed by the mixed berry. I thought the nutty ones would be a top seller, but they rank last.
Finally, a few small piles of whole kernel corn placed on the ground daily takes care of the goofy gooses (Mr. Piggy's Gang) as well as the mallards coming up from the creek and occasional turkeys.
One rule I adhere to-all the feeders are very close to the house. No free rides here. They're going to provide me with up-close entertainment. That's just the dues they have to pay. Carpe diem.