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BIRD FEEDING

To help you establish an effective bird feeding station, we have collected this useful information to help you attract the birds!

When placing your bird feeders, allow privacy for the birds. Avoid areas where there is excessive noise from dogs, driveway traffic, and slamming doors. Use a location that is as quiet and undisturbed as possible. Set the feeder back several yards from the window so indoor activities will not scare the birds away. Normally, a corner of the yard near some shrubs or a fence is ideal. Bushes permit a social arena where birds may light, preen, search for food and maintain pecking order. Where your yard meets deciduous trees and where the shrubbery ends and garden begins all serve as mini-habitats. These areas offer the interspersing of plants and perches that birds love to utilize. By taking advantage of little "waste areas" in your yard you will be able to provide the privacy needed to maintain a population of feeding station visitors.

Birds When setting up your new bird feeder, wipe off the feeder with a damp cloth. It takes time for birds to become used to something new in their environment. To help attract birds, sprinkle seed on the ground under the feeder.

Do not be discouraged if it takes time for birds to respond to new bird feeders. Frequency of feeding can depend on where you live, the number of trees and other feeders in your area. A poor winter at the feeder -- low numbers, few species -- is usually a sign of a mild winter or abundant natural food rather than some sort of catastrophe.

Birds eat grit along with their food to help them digest it. During the winter, you can scatter sand near the feeder to help the birds, since natural grit may be frozen or hard to find.

Birds Cardinals, blue jays and house sparrows are often the first visitors to a new feeder. When titmice, woodpeckers and nuthatches begin coming in, you've established an effective feeding station!

Birds For best results, hang the feeder away from trees, bushes, or fences from which squirrels may climb or jump to the feeder.

If this is the first feeder in your yard, you may need to wait a few weeks for the birds to discover it. Place a shiny pie pan with some seed in it beneath the feeder to attract birds coming through your yard.

Birds If adding to existing feeders, birds may ignore the new feeder, preferring to feed at a familiar location. Move the new feeder to the familiar location and move the older feeder nearby.

You can also try to let your other feeders empty to encourage birds to try the new feeder.

Characteristics of Foods and Feeders Used The bird feeding experience is influenced by the quality of the wild bird food presented and the effectiveness with which it is made available to the birds. Foods vary greatly in their attractiveness, as will be discussed later, and some bird feeders have a much higher innate attractiveness than others. For example, "squirrel-proof" feeders tend to have a low innate attractiveness to birds than feeders that are not designed to be squirrel-proof. Therefore their use results in a less satisfactory bird feeding experience than would be the case if an attractive non-squirrel-proof feeder were presented and squirrel-proofed through external means, such as baffles. Arrangement of Feeders, Habitat, and Bird Viewing Opportunities Serious backyard birders should be encouraged to plan the area around their homes so that the arrangement of bird habitat and feeders provides an excellent bird viewing opportunity. Too often bird feeders are placed in areas where birds at these feeders cannot be seen easily. The use that a bird feeder gets is greatly influenced by the proximity of excellent habitat. Birds are more attracted to a feeder near good cover than to a feeder surrounded by an expanse of lawn. This is especially true because birds may have to quickly escape from a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Therefore, it is good strategy to have a large dense bush behind or close to feeders. Also, bird viewing opportunities are enhanced by being able to see the birds that are sitting in woody vegetation before they fly to the feeder. Consequently, a quality bird feeding experience depends on the appropriate arrangements of attractive feeders containing effective foods immediately adjacent to good bird habitat, all of which can be readily seen from the house.

Habitat in Vicinity of Feeders - The Most Important Consideration It can't be emphasized too strongly that the quality of the wild bird feeding experience depends on the quality of the bird habitat in the vicinity. The number and kinds of birds that will be attracted by wild bird feeding depends on the habitat conditions in the bird feederís yard and vicinity. The salient features are as follows:

Bird populations are richest in situations where there is a large variety of vegetative strata present, i.e., a varied environment with herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees of various sizes.

Bird populations are least abundant under homogeneous habitat conditions. One key to having a rich varied bird population is maintaining a variety of plants. Perhaps the greatest deterrent to satisfactory bird populations throughout many areas is man's preoccupation with maintaining vast lawns. Studies have shown that areas having a large percentage of the ground covered with trees and shrubs have much denser, richer bird populations than residential areas that have a high percentage of maintained lawns.

People wishing to have an excellent bird feeding experience should be encouraged to minimize their mowed lawn area and maximize the number and variety of trees and shrubs and natural meadows that are available in the vicinity of their homes.

Bird Foods Relative Attractiveness of Various Commercially Available Foods The most comprehensive report ever written on the relative attractiveness of various commercially available wild bird seeds is entitled, "Feeding Preferences of Wild Birds at Feeders" was carried out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to verify the surprising results of Special Scientific Report 233 entitled, "Relative Attractiveness of Different Foods at Wild Bird Feeders." The reports are based on research conducted in Maryland by Dr. Aelred Geis (now Director of Research for Wild Bird Centers of America), and then expanded nationwide.

Dr.Geisís findings have been cited in almost every major book on bird feeding written in the last ten years, including the Ortho Series on Attracting Wild Birds, and the Audubon Society publications. However, none of these popular accounts provide the detailed information found in Report 233. This report also serves as the basis for the National Wildlife Federation's colorful leaflet entitled, "Wild Bird Feeding Preferences," often distributed at Wild Bird Center stores. Report 233 documents the clear superiority of oil-type sunflower over black stripe sunflower, demonstrates the lack of attractiveness of many seeds sold as bird food, demonstrates that wild bird feeding preferences are the same for a given species nationwide. This report also provides data on the effect of the type of feeder on the species composition of the birds attracted, when the same food is used.

Wild Bird Food Mixes The striking differences in seed preferences among bird species clearly suggests why wild bird food mixes are inefficient and illogical. Unfortunately, the bird feeding public has been trained by the bird food industry to use wild bird food mixes. This usually results in lower feeding efficiency, wasted money and other problems, but because of this public demand, mixes are available for sale at Wild Bird Center stores. However, at every opportunity, an effort should be made to educate the public about the inappropriateness of mixes. The basis for the argument against mixes is as follows:

l. The species composition of birds present in an area varies from place to place and time to time in the same area. Therefore, it is impossible to produce a mix that fits this great variability.

2. Different species of birds prefer to feed in different situations, i.e., on different types of feeders, and at varying heights. Therefore, when a bird seed mix is placed in a small, elevated feeder, the birds that prefer that type of feeder remove the few seeds that they prefer and can reach. After that, there is no bird feeding activity. Mixes should never be placed in elevated feeders with small perches unless a large House Sparrow population is present to eat the millet, milo, wheat, etc., that the native songbirds leave behind. Since the bird food manufacturer has no way of knowing where the food will be used, it is unfortunate that food mixes have been sold without emphasizing strongly that they should not be used in small elevated feeders. The failure of wild bird food mixes to accommodate the ecological differences among bird species very seriously detracts from their effectiveness.

Economics of Bird Feeds in Relation to Their Effectiveness See Dr. Geis' paper, "Implications of Using Inexpensive Wild Bird Foods" for an in-depth analysis of the consequences of using such "inexpensive" foods as cracked corn, wheat, and milo. It is clear that the greatest number of bird visits and probably least cost per bird visit occurs when high-quality foods are used. However, the daily costs of feeding are much higher when attractive foods are used for the principal reason that more foods are consumed. The results of using "cheap" foods (corn, wheat, milo) are lower daily feeding costs which satisfy the uninformed or casual feeder. For most people, the reduced bird visits, much higher costs per bird visit, and a possible increase in pest and potential spoilage problems should make the "inexpensive" foods an undesirable option.

Basic Bird Feeder Types and Approaches It should be recognized that a feeder is simply a vehicle for presenting food to birds, hopefully in a manner acceptable to the species one wishes to attract. The approach to doing this ranges from placing the food on the ground to using highly specific feeders designed to service a specific species. The most universally attractive mode of presentation is to place the food on the ground. In winter, customers can be encouraged to place white proso millet on the ground next to dense cover in open situations where the birds can be seen. This can result in an excellent response by many species of birds including some that are rarely seen on elevated feeders. For example, the first indication that spring migration is occurring is when Fox Sparrows are seen feeding on this millet in February. The serious bird feeder wants to enjoy this experience which cannot be obtained using elevated feeders unless it is from the spillage that collects beneath them. Species that typically respond well to small elevated feeders will also feed on the ground. Therefore, the greatest variety of bird species is attracted to food placed on the ground, or for many good practical reasons, platform feeders. It is because of this fundamental bird behavior that large feeding tables were used in studying the relative attractiveness of various foods in the research that serves as the basis for understanding wild bird feeding preferences. It was necessary to present food on large platforms which in effect simulate ground feeding, in order to obtain data on species such as juncos, which do not like to use elevated feeders, and the larger species that cannot use perches. It seems likely, though, that the relative differences in attractiveness of oil-type sunflower and niger seed to American Goldfinches (as reflected by the tables presented in the aforementioned reports) is biased against oil-type sunflower and in favor of niger seed simply because goldfinches were prevented from visiting oil-type sunflower as readily as they might because of competition with larger, more aggressive species of birds for the universally attractive oil sunflower. There would be less need to feed goldfinches niger in specific niger feeders if oil sunflower in a platform or more generalized feeder was not attractive to so many species.

Feeder Location The logical location of bird feeders was discussed earlier, and emphasizes the desirability of adjacent habitat and viewability. Also, there is limit to how much food birds will consume. Therefore, there is no need to have an excessive number of feeders and more importantly, due to the sometimes aggressive nature of birds, placing feeders too close together results in less use than if they were more widely distributed.

Wild Bird Feeding Management Problems and Possible Solutions Debris and Uneaten Food Beneath Feeders Not only seed hulls, but also a surprisingly high percentage of the seeds birds remove from a feeder are either dropped or scattered to the ground uneaten. The amount of food dropped depends on the characteristics of the food and feeders used. In fact, a desirable characteristic of some attractive feeders (like the Droll Yankees tube-style feeders) is that they are "self-cleaning" so that unattractive food and seed hulls are less likely to clog the feeding portals. Thus, the accumulation of seed and hulls beneath the feeder is an inevitable result of wild bird feeding. This accumulation is not only unsightly, but attracts unwanted animals and can even smell bad. Excessive accumulation might attract rats in many urban areas. This problem can be minimized by using bird foods that are attractive to birds in feeders that are not especially prone to spillage. For example, oil-type sunflower scattered to the ground tends to be eaten by birds during the day and therefore not available to rats at night, which is the case when commercial mixes are used. These mixes contain unattractive ingredients such as milo, wheat, and cracked corn which are unattractive to birds but are excellent rat food. Rodent problems have been alleviated in some situations by using the Hyde Company"s Super Silo feeders and trays with oil-type sunflower as food. Other solutions include: periodically cleaning up the material accumulating beneath the feeder and disposing of it in some appropriate way; placing various mulches beneath the feeder in which the debris can be plowed under or covered over; or placing a porous landscaping cloth beneath the feeder that can be picked up to facilitate debris

Dirty Looking Feeders Feeders, especially clear plastic ones, can become very unsightly over a period of time. The obvious solution is to occasionally wash them. This is difficult to do for some feeders, so most Wild Bird Centers stores carry long-handled brushes and other equipment to facilitate feeder cleaning.

Cats This difficult problem can be addressed in several Ways. It is often suggested that feeders be placed so that they are not convenient for cats to lie in wait for birds attracted to the feeder. This doesn't work very well because birds are not very bright and sometimes land within a short distance of a motionless cat waiting in an open situation. Therefore, one solution is to erect a low fence that prevents the cat from charging directly onto birds feeding on the seed directly beneath the feeder. Perhaps the most fundamental approach is to see that leash laws are enforced in those areas that have them. This has been effectively done in Howard County, MD., where a cat interfered with bird food research activities.Under existing laws in the County, the owner had to find another home for the cat because it was too expensive to not do otherwise.

Squirrels Our first choice is never to correct a squirrel problem by using a feeder that is profoundly unattractive to birds. Whenever possible, it makes better sense to find a way to squirrel-proof an attractive feeder. Some of the squirrel-proof feeders currently on the market are very unattractive to birds. It results not only in an inferior bird viewing experience, but a profound drop in consumption of bird food. It is far more sensible to use an attractive bird feeder such as the Hyde Super Silo and then squirrel-proof it in some way, such as with a baffle, than it is to use a squirrel-proof feeder, such as the Looker or Mandarin feeders, that are relatively unattractive to birds.In some cases, such as yards with large decks and/or overhanging trees, squirrel-proofing the feeder through external may be impractical.

Rats As previously stated, the most effective solution to a rat problem is to have as little food as possible on the ground overnight. This is achieved by using food that is highly attractive to birds so that any food reaching the ground is eaten quickly. People who distribute food should be encouraged to put out small amounts each morning, and never to distribute excessive amounts at one time.

Hawks The presence of bird-eating hawks at a feeder should be viewed as environmental education opportunities rather than a "problem." The bird feeding public should be educated to realize that seed-eating birds have very high reproductive rates and that bird populations can tolerate a very high mortality rate without being adversely affected. The oft-suggested solution to temporarily stop feeding is inappropriate. There is no reduction in predation since the hawks eat the same number of birds each day regardless of where they catch them. The hawk can return to the feeding situation as readily as the seed-eating birds can, and hawks are not a serious threat to total populations anyway, so the suggestion that the presence of the hawk should prompt the cessation of feeding is illogical. Furthermore, with the great increase in Sharp-Shinned Hawks that has occurred in many parts of North America, this species must be viewed much like squirrels an animal associated with bird feeding that must be expected.

Dead Birds Around Feeders Anyone successful in attracting a large number and variety of birds through a combination of habitat and feeding will occasionally find a dead bird. They must understand that what they are seeing is a very normal event. The very high reproductive capability of seed-eating birds actually indicates that these species also have high mortality rates. To find a dead bird in the vicinity of a feeder is nothing to be alarmed about.In fact, it should be expected.

The problem of mortality associated with window strikes is not a serious matter when one understands the population dynamics of birds that typically visit bird feeders. People alarmed by the death of an individual bird may be very concerned but re£1ect an ecologically unsound and unrealistic attitude.

Competition Among Bird Species Probably the most intriguing problem to address in feeding wild birds is how to continue to attract desired species that are being discouraged due to the presence of other species that are attracted to the same feeding situation. Examples are American Goldfinches not permitted to feed because of competition with house Finches or situations where Blue Jays frighten smaller birds away from table feeders. These problems can be addressed most effectively by recognizing the ecological basis for effective bird feeding. Unwanted species can be discouraged and the desired encouraged through selection of the kind of food presented and perhaps even more importantly, the manner in which it is presented. For example, the Upside Down Thistle Feeder, patented by George Petrides and designed exclusively for gold finches, addresses this situation.

"Best" Management Strategy It is obvious that the best management strategy depends on the goals of the birder. Knowledge of relative attractiveness of various foods for various species combined with knowledge of bird behavior that influences the best way to present these foods can be used to provide the best management strategy. In general, the best approach will be to:

l. feed oil-type sunflower (or comparable seed such as hulled sunflower) in feeders appropriate for the desired species - e.g.small elevated feeders for such species as chickadees and titmice, along with

2. white proso millet presented on the ground or on platforms. The millet is important if species such as Field Sparrows, Tree Sparrows, juncos, and Fox Sparrows that prefer to eat on the ground are also an objective. Customers are cautioned that the best management strategy may change during different times of the year and from year to year, depending on changes in the bird population around his home. Typically, in the Washington DC area for example, there is a greater need to present white proso millet on the ground or in large platform feeders in winter when juncos and winter sparrows are present, than in summer when these species are absent. An invasion of Pine Siskins (such as occurred in some places in the winter of 1989-90, and in others in the winter of 1992-93) or Evening Grosbeaks prompts a change in tactics by the knowledgeable person who feeds birds.

Wild Bird Feeding Myths and Fallacies There is undoubtedly no other recreational use of wildlife that is based more on tradition and less on facts than wild bird feeding. This has resulted in many fallacies having been adopted as fundamental truths guiding this endeavor. For example, the "golden rule of bird feeding," that once you start feeding you must continue or the birds will die is unquestionably a profound exaggeration yet it is still repeated frequently in articles written about bird feeding.

Perhaps the biggest myth is that winter is the only appropriate time to feed birds. Research results indicate that seed eating birds seek artificial seed sources much more intensely in, summer than they do in winter! Certainly anyone who feeds year-round recognizes that they often have a very large consumption of food in summer








 

   
 
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