Feed The Birds
by Ruth S. Foster

Late Winter is the hardest time for birds. Most of last year's berries are gone, new ones won't appear until summer. The bugs are asleep and unavailable for eating. And when snow covers the ground, foraging in leaf litter for left over crabapples and insects is impossible.

Bird feeders are most welcome at this time. It takes a while until the birds discover new food sources, but when they do, they will flock daily to see what you have put out.

Unfortunately so do the Squirrels, who are a real pain. I put out a handful of sunflower seeds each morning into a feeder right next to the kitchen window. The birds eat all of it, leaving little or nothing for the squirrels. Even better, when the birds see us in the window, they know we have food, so they settle in a bush near the window waiting. Sometimes they even whirr over my head when I'm in the garden, just to remind me that they are hungry.

The bigger birds scare away the smaller ones, who wait patiently in the trees for a chance to flit in and grab a bite. That's what meant by "
Pecking Order". Then the squirrels come and chase them all .

As May unfolds in radiant splendor, the migrating birds of summer return to grace the garden with sound and movement. This appeal to all our senses is one of the reasons that gardening is so satisfying.

The birds return to raise families, often the same birds, sometimes to the same tree. Bird feeding is common in winter, but many folks think that when the flowers bloom, the birds have enough to eat and can take care of themselves.

Ornithology studies have indicated that in spring the need for supplemental food is as great as in winter. The stress of breeding, increased singing and mating requires extra calories, particularly fat, which is found primarily in seeds. Protein rich insects are used primarily to feed the babies. In fall they can use additional help with calories to migrate south. Sometimes though, if the winter is mild and the food plentiful, they will hang around all year.

Who eats what in this feathered kingdom has always been a confusing mystery to me until I found a bird feeding chart. It suggested the following preferences:
Cardinal sunflower, white millet, safflower
Junco, Sparrow sunflower, millet
Mourning Dove sunflower, millet
Nuthatches, Woodpeckers peanuts, sunflower, suet
Evening Grosbeak sunflower, safflower
Finches, Pine Siskin thistle seed, sunflower
Chickadee, Titmouse peanuts, sunflower, suet
All Sparrows sunflower, millet, safflower
Wren sunflower, peanuts hearts, suet
Hummingbirds nectar, pink sugar water

Because I like simplicity, I will, with my new found knowledge, use mainly sunflower hearts since most every fluffy friend out there supposedly eats them. Furthermore, I'm tired of the left over debris of black shells from my current whole sunflower seeds.

Incidentally, birds should be fed from hanging or pole mounted feeders, not on the ground. The reason is that ground feed attracts raccoons and woodchucks which can carry rabies, not to mention undesirable squirrels and rats.

Birdhouses. Of course, once I learned about the sunflower hearts, I just had to have a quaint birdhouse to decorate the garden. Most birdhouses are more for fun and decoration than for serious bird breeding. There are kits to make with children, ready-built ones to be painted and decorated, and finally , delightful (and pricey) ones made to look like old barns, hanging lobster pots, quanit cottages, even lighthouses.

I settled on a hanging feed station, with hand painted flowers, of a size that the small birds can get into but not scrappy blue jays or crows. The birds nest nearby in some thick ivy on the trees and in holes made by squirrels and woodpeckers.

Proper birdhouses should have a small hole near the top, be deep enough to protect the nest, and have a cleanout panel . The size of the hole and the orientation of the house determines which bird varieties will inhabit it. Sometimes birds (usually wrens) will nest in unexpected places like light fixtures or shelves or boxes. Just leave them alone and enjoy them until the little ones fledge and they all fly away.