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Feeding Your Birds

The best way to lure birds to your yard is with lots of good food. Gardening by the Yard host Paul James reviews feeders and seed and share other birdfeeding tips.

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Birds are a welcome site in the yard — not only do they control the insect population, but their cheerful chirping can enhance your home's soundtrack.

The best way to lure them is with lots of good, free food, as Gardening by the Yard host Paul James explains:

Figure A

The right seed for feeding

Mixes made from milo, millets or grains are a little too cheap. They lack the nutrients of, say, the black sunflower seed (figure A). If Paul had to choose one seed to feed the birds, this would be it. It's widely adored by many species, and it packs away the good stuff birds need.

Another good seed: safflower. And although birds love safflower seeds, squirrels hate them.

Figure B

And last but not least, thistle, also known as niger seed (figure B). It's expensive compared with other seeds, but it's one of the favorite seeds of finches. Squirrels don't care much for thistle either.

Get into the mix

You can create your own special blend with a combination of sunflower, safflower, thistle and other seeds. If you'd rather stick with a pre-mix selection, however, one interesting blend to consider is called "no mess." The mix, which contains peanuts, sunflower, safflower chips and cracked corn, has been irradiated so the scraps left by the birds won't take root in your garden.

Figure C

Sometimes birds benefit from a boost of extra calories. These special cakes mix chopped-up insects, seeds and other edibles with suet, or rendered fat (figure C). There are two kinds of suet cakes: A no-melt version is for summer use, and the other type is strictly for winter.

Figure D

Feeders

There are all kinds of bird feeders, the most popular being the tube feeder (figure D). When shopping for tube feeders, look for ones with metal feeding stations so squirrels can't chew through them.

Figure E

You can also find feeders with large holes (figure E) to hold peanut blends.

Figure F

Some feeders have a finer mesh (figure F) for smaller seed such as thistle.

Figure G

Open-air platform feeders (figure G) are designed to either hang or sit on the ground to attract sparrows, doves and pigeons.

Whatever feeder you use, keep it clean. If not, the seed could develop mold or other substances that can be harmful to birds. Use soapy water or a little bleach mixed with water. Wash and rinse the feeders well and let them dry before putting them back into action.

Feeding schedule

Paul suggests feeding birds year-round, backing off some in the summer so they'll eat insects preying on precious plants. In the winter he concentrates on suet and seeds for migratory and non-migratory birds.

Figure H

Keep squirrels away

One solution for keeping unwanted scavengers at bay is to shut them out with this contraption (figure H). If a bird lands to feed, she can eat all she wants.

Figure I

But when a squirrel tries to get a nibble, her weight is too much for the device and shuts it down (figure I).

Another option is to mount the feeder on a pole that would be difficult for squirrels to climb. Some people even smear the pole with petroleum jelly.

If you're using a platform feeder — which is wide open to squirrels — install a baffle to keep them out. There's plenty of room for birds to continue visiting, and as a plus it keeps the seed safe from nature's elements.

But despite all efforts, there's no way you can keep squirrels from getting to some of your seed, so why not give them what they want? They love corn, so buy some dried corn and put it on a squirrel feeder.

Keep birds safe from cats

Mounting or hanging feeders four to six feet off the ground should keep birds feeling confident they can visit safely. To protect all birds, and especially ground feeders, make sure the feeder is well away from areas where cats can hide.

If the branches you can safely hang the feeder from are too high, get a shepherd's hook. The hooks come in different sizes to meet your desired hanging height.

Figure J

Smart storage

  • Store birdseed in a cool, dry place like the garage or a shed. More importantly, store it in metal containers (figure J) to protect it from rats, squirrels and raccoons.

  • Figure K

  • A handy tool: a scoop that doubles as a funnel (figure K). When you fill your tube feeders, you'll avoid the difficulty and mess of pouring seed.

  • tube feeder, platform feeder, squirrel-proof feeder, suet cakes - Wild Bird Store
    thistle feeder (Nyjer Mesh Feeder) - Birds-n-Garden.com
    metal cans - home and garden centers and hardware stores
    scoop/funnel - Bird Song
    squirrel feeders - Looker Products
    corn cobs - Wild Bird Mart
    edible "cobs" made of corn flour ("Squirrelog") - C&S Products

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