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November 24, 2006

Feeding the Birds

Source: James Schuster,

Inviting the birds to your yard for dinner during the winter months can be a rewarding activity for the visitors and you, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"As they get food, the birds provide a living panorama of color and activity to liven up the winter landscape," said James Schuster.

If you wish to draw a wide range of birds to your yard, buy a variety of seeds. If you want to be more selective about your guests, simply narrow the food options, he noted.

"There are some 'dinners' that will draw certain types of birds," he explained. "Peanut butter, when mixed with melted suet or yellow corn meal, will attract Flickers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Tree Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Robins, Juncos, Redpolls, and Towhees.

"White millet is preferred by birds over red millet. Birds that like millet include Purple Finches, Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Pheasants, Juncos, most Sparrows, Starlings, Towhees, and Mourning Doves."

Favoring sunflower seeds and screenings are: Cardinals, Tufted Titmouses, Purple Finches, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks, Blackbirds, Juncos, and Blue Jays.

"Migratory birds such as Towhees, Harris's Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak like sunflowers, too," he added.

Cardinals, Pheasants, Blue Jays, and Blackbirds enjoy corn whether it is on the cob, whole kernel, or cracked. Robins, Thrashers, Catbirds, Waxwings, and Cardinals like raisins. White bread pieces as well as crumbs are enjoyed by: Pheasants, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Brown Creepers, Mocking Birds, Robins, Starlings, Grackles, Juncos, Cardinals, and most sparrows. All the birds need grit to help grind up the seeds.

"There can sometimes be a downside to feeding birds, depending upon your personal tolerance," said Schuster. "Squirrels and mice will also be attracted to the seeds. The squirrels will often raid the feeder while mice often feed on the uneaten dropped seed. Bird seed dropped on the ground can cause unwanted plants to start growing the following summer."

Schuster said that once you start feeding the birds, it is important to feed the entire winter and early spring.

"By mid-spring, you can start weaning the birds off the seeds," he said. "The birds will become dependent on your feeding them once they find your feeder. It is harmful to the birds you are feeding to just stop feeding them, especially if it is still adverse weather.

"The birds need to be slowly weaned from your feeding and forced to start hunting for food found in more natural settings to avoid some of the birds starving to death."

© 2005 The Cairo Gate