River Currents

by Free Speech on October 2, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI
By Gary Engberg
©2009 Gary Engberg Outdoors

It’s Time to Start Feeding the Birds

 Blue Bird landing photo by Sandy Ellarson

Blue Bird landing photo by Sandy Ellarson

Last week, I was writing about the warm weather that we were having after a summer with record cool temperatures. I fished last Friday and Saturday on the Madison lakes with friends Wally Banfi and Pat Westberg for muskies without much success. We fished top-water baits and had two nice fish “blow-up” on our baits, but we didn’t get a fish in the boat. The water temperature on Lake Monona was 72 degrees and water temperatures were similar on both Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River. The point is that fish are still in a summer pattern despite the fact that the calendar says it is almost October. Wally, Pat, and I all concluded that there would have to be some cooler weather to get the fall fishing patterns to kick in and get fish on their fall “feeding frenzy.”

I did some work around the house over the weekend and noticed that the hummingbirds that I feed all summer had finally left for a warmer climate. Millions of Americans feed birds and I’m one of them who even feeds birds year-round. I know many of you feed birds during the winter and more and more people are becoming year-round feeders. I find great enjoyment in feeding birds and having them “singing” their songs in my water front yard. Over the years, I’ve learned more and more about birds from just watching them as they come and go to my many feeding stations.

hummingbirds sipping nectar from the hand.

hummingbirds sipping nectar from the hand.

I’ve found that year-round feeding attracts many species of birds that you’d never see unless you had feeders out to attract and bring birds into your world. There are birds that come through the area in the spring as they migrate to their summer breeding grounds, some that stay for the summer, and others that stay in Wisconsin all year despite the severity of our winters. There is an abundance of food for birds during spring and summer, but things get scarce in the fall. Then, when winter arrives the birds that winter here (cardinals, jays, doves, wrens, sparrows, woodpeckers to name a few) depend on you for their food! Once you start feeding birds, please continue feeding them because they need and depend on the added food you give them for their survival.

I suggest that you do a little research and find out what birds stay year-round and what the best feeder, feed, and feeder location is for different bird’s species. All the information that you need is on the Internet or go to the library and check out a couple of general bird books to learn some valuable bird information. Bird feeding, bird watching, and bird photography are great hobbies and another way that a family can get together for a worthwhile activity. I recommend buying a quality bird book for easy identification and added knowledge. Another good project for the family is having a list of the different birds that you see in your yard and then seeing what these birds want and enjoy.

Some birds prefer different types of seeds, different kinds of feeders, and specific locations for their feeders. If there is one bird food that covers the diet of most birds it is black-oil sunflower seed. These small, dark seeds seem to fit the diets of most birds that you’ll feed. If you buy “cheaper” feeds you will often have left-over seeds that many birds won’t eat and are wasted. This is why one should do a little research before going out and buying any bird feed and feeders.

Here is some valuable information from Bob Frazee, a University of Illinois natural resources educator, who is an expert on birds in the Midwest. Frazee says that the fall is the best time to start your feeding program. Birds, small mammals, and other wildlife are now actively seeking out food sources to fatten up for migration or winter temperatures if they are year-round residents. By getting your feeders up now, you have a better opportunity that birds will find your feeder and get accustomed to it before the winter arrives.

Since our major objective is to enjoy the birds, you will want to locate your feeders where they can be used and also viewed and photographed. As I mentioned, birds have different body sizes, bills and feet sizes, preference for different feed, and foraging locations. If you cater to the different preferences of the birds that you’re attracting and feeding, you’ll greatly increase your bird activity. Some of the more common birds that you’ll attract will be juncos, sparrows, cardinals, and blue jays all that prefer to forage for their seeds on the ground. You’ll regularly see these birds hopping along the lower branches of scrubs and picking through the leaf litter is search of berries and seeds. Give these ground-feeders a small brush pile or grassy area for cover as they feed on the ground.

Grosbeak photo by Sandy Ellarson

Grosbeak photo by Sandy Ellarson

The most common feeder that most people use is a covered tray feeder raised off the ground by a pole. These tray feeders accommodate most ground feeding birds and also will attract chickadees, nuthatches, and finches. This feeder will also attract the widest variety of birds, but the feed is not protected from the weather and can get wet and moldy. Another problem with this type of feeder is that squirrels and larger birds, like grackles, can invade the feeder and waste the seed.

Hanging feeders like silo and tube feeders with perches work well when hung in your yard from a branch or clothesline. These feeders swing freely in the wind and finches, nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers will all use them. Try filling these large hanging feeders with sunflower seeds for cardinals and blue jays. The smaller feeders should be geared toward smaller birds like finches, nuthatches, chickadees, and tufted titmice. Goldfinches are attracted to Niger seed and if you use a tube feeder with a small hole this will help avoid any waste of this costly seed.

Woodpeckers and nuthatches are mostly insect eaters. They prefer foods high in protein and fat like suet and peanut butter that can be fed in clinging feeders made of hardware cloth, mesh bags, and pine cones or other “structures” without perches. These clinging feeders are also excellent for feeding nuts to smaller birds or suet to insect eaters.

Birds have different food preferences, but like I said earlier black-oil sunflowers are the number one feed for most birds. But, juncos and sparrows love millet, goldfinches can’t resist Niger seed, and titmice are “addicted” to peanuts. The key when feeding birds is variety which will bring in most if not all birds in your area. Now’s the time to clean your feeders, find good locations for them for the birds and your viewing, and do some research on birds and their feeding preferences with winter getting closer every day. Many a winter day can be brightened by feeding birds and knowing that you’re helping them survive the Wisconsin winter.  www.garyengbergoutdoors.com

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