October is a great time to start putting bird feeders out. Natural food sources are becoming depleted, and birds will quickly learn that your backyard feeder is a good place to go.

Tips for successful winter care of feathered friends ::
  • Place bird feeders on or near trees and shrubs with plenty of branches to perch on and cover from predators.
  • If your bird seed is getting blown out of the feeder by strong winds, the birds are subject to that same wind.Try and find a sheltered place for the feeder.
  • Avoid metal perches – although not common, there have been reposrts of very cold metal sticking to a bird’s foot.
  • Keep your feeder clean – clean your feeder once every 2 weeks, unless temperatures are remaining well below freezing. Feeders should be cleaned more regularly during high traffic times, or warmer weather. Using a stiff brush scrub them with mild soap and water and allow them to dry fully before refilling with seed.
  • Reduce overcrowding at feeders by placing several feeders a few feet apart (if space allows).
Types of feeders ::

Hanging tube hopper (left) and hanging suet plug feeder (right) – both feeders from Andrew’s Reclaimed

Feeders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but key features that should be common to all include a solid structure that can withstand winter weather, a tight construction to contain seeds and of a size large enough so that you don’t find yourself constantly filling them. Different feeders appeal to, or are more suitable for, different species of birds, and most feeders fit within a few main categories:

  • hopper – often hung from trees, or attached to decks and poles. Suitable for larger bird species such as cardinals, grosbeaks and jays.
  • suet – suitable for cinging, insect-feeding birds.
  • tray – suitable for ground feeding birds, and also work well when mouted to stumps or deck posts and railings.
  • tube – often hung from trees are are especially good for chickadees, finches and titmice.

Post-mounted hopper feeder – from Andrew’s Reclaimed

Types of food ::

There is great variety in the commercial birds seeds available in stores. Many of them are mixes and contain a number of different seeds, however filling your feeder with a standard mix can often result in a alot of wasted seeds as birds will pick out the most highy prized seeds and leave the rest. Black-oil sunflower seeds are among the most sought after seeds by the greatest number of backyard visitors. These seeds have a thinner shell, making them more easily accesible to smaller birds, are nutritious and high in fat. Other common bird seed ingredients include corn (dried whole kernel) which is a favourite of jays, pigeons and doves, cracked corn which is eaten by blackbirds and finches, millet (available in red or white, but most birds seem to prefer the white), thistle seed (nyjer) a definite favourite among the finches, and safflower which seems to do especially well with cardinals.

Bird Notes recommends making your own mix with black-oil sunflower seeds, white proso millet and cracked corn. This eliminates some of the other “filler” seeds that are commonly found in some commercial seed mixes.

Suet (beef fat) mixed with seeds is another type of bird feed, and attracts insect-eating species such as chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and woodpeckers. Suet can either be obtained from your local supermarket, or ready made suet cakes can be bought already containing seeds. These are best offered in a suet cage, or in a suet plug feeder such as the one pictured above.

Preferred foods of birds common to eastern North America ::
  • Cardinals, Grosbeaks – sunflower
  • Blue jay – sunflower, corn
  • Chickadee, Titmice, Nuthatches – sunflower, suet
  • Woodpeckers – suet
  • Finches – sunflower, nyger
  • Sparrows, Blackbirds – sunflower
  • Pigeons, Doves – corn
A couple of common concerns ::

Will feeding birds change their migratory behaviour? Bird migratory behaviour is triggered by day-length (photoperiod) and not the availability of food, so it is unlikely that setting up a feeder in October will influence the timing of a bird’s migration.

Will the birds starve if I cannot fill the feeder? Ideally, if you know you will be away, have a friend of neighbour fill the feeder for you. However, if you suddenly cannot fill your feeder, their is no cause for concern. Winter food sources are often depleted suddenly, and birds have adapted to continually search out new sources. They have become accustomed to your feeder as a reliable source, but studies have shown that even birds with access to a reliable winter feeder still consume approximately 75%of their diet elsewhere!

Other things to have on hand ::
  • bird ID cards
  • bird ID book
  • binoculars
  • moleskin notebook and pencil
  • squirrel feeder (give those squirrels their own feeder, and maybe, just maybe, they will leave your bird feeders alone…)
Resources ::
  • BirdNotes from the Cornell Lab for Ornithology
  • Project FeederWatch list of resources

Andrew’s Reclaimed is generously offering Little Wool Maus readers 20% off any in-stock item in their etsy shop. Use coupon code THANKYOULILWOOLMAUS. Offer valid until October 7th, 2011. 

Photo of Chickadee on suet feeder taken by Chris Williamson. Bird feeder photos used with permission from Andrew at Andrew’s Reclaimed.

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