Bird Feeding Tips

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Bird Feeding Tips

By Judy Markowsky, as excerpted from the Bangor Daily News

Cold weather will bring birds flocking to bird feeders. If you’d like to try feeding birds, now is the time to start. Black-oil sunflower seeds are absolutely the best to start with; accept no substitute! Inquisitive chickadees, our state bird, will be the first to discover your feeder.

For feeders, tubular hanging ones with metal-lined feeding ports are best. Once chickadees find your first-rate seed/feeder combination, then nuthatches, goldfinches, house finches, purple finches, and blue jays, all brightly-colored birds, will follow.

You’ll want to hang your feeders where (a.) you can easily reach them for refilling; (b.) where the mess underneath won’t bother you; and (c.) where you can easily see and enjoy the birds.

Once your sunflower feeder is up and running successfully, you may get greedy and want to attract still more birds. There are three ways to do it, one at a time and savoring the success of each before going on to the next.

First, you can buy a suet feeder (which looks like a small wire cage about 6X6 inches). Suet from the supermarket works as well as the square suet blocks you find in hardware, feed, or garden supply stores. Woodpeckers and nuthatches love suet. You must find a place to hang it where raccoons can’t get to it.

Next, you can buy mixed seed or, even better, pure millet seed and sprinkle it on the ground. Sparrows and mourning doves will join your flock.

Then, you will be sufficiently hooked to invest in thistle (a.k.a. nyjer) seed and a special feeder to hold this expensive kind of birdseed. Goldfinches will enjoy this seed, and in some years but not every year, you may get flocks of Pine Siskins from Canada, and even the beautiful Redpoll from the arctic.

Beware: here are some problems that can beset the wanna-be bird feeder—or challenge the ingenious person who feeds birds–

No Trees: It is very hard to attract birds to a house with no trees nearby.

Cats: If there are many cats in your neighborhood, do not feed birds on the ground or anywhere near shrubs or weeds. If you have cats, keep them inside. Cats can sit very still behind the tiniest shrub or weed, and pounce from there onto a bird.

Squirrels: Squirrels are the bane of people who feed birds. Squirrels love black-oil sunflower seed. Even though squirrels are just rodents, it is very hard for a human to outsmart a squirrel. It takes time, thought, or money to buy or devise baffles which will keep squirrels off feeders. Some top-of-the-line feeders are available with a baffle-bar that bars squirrels (which are heavier than birds) from the birdseed. There are even electrical feeders which zap squirrels, causing them to lose their grip and fall to the ground.

Seeds: Do not buy the less expensive seed mix and put it in a tubular hanging feeder. No birds will come. This is the most common mistake of people who are starting out feeding birds.

Pigeons: If your feeders attract undesirable pigeons, it’s best not to feed seeds on the ground. Pigeons usually have trouble clinging to hanging, tubular feeders. If they learn, you can sometimes foil them by removing the perches. If all else fails and you really must get rid of the pigeons, you have to quit feeding birds for a month or so.

Attracting Cardinals: Everybody would like to. Cardinals are beautiful, and they are suburbanites. They need big, robust, protective shrubs, which mostly grow in older suburban areas. Cardinals will not live in the forest, or an area of new homes, few small trees, and no robust shrubs. Also, Cardinals love sunflower seeds, but have trouble perching on hanging bird feeders. Cardinals are a little too big for that, although some individuals can learn. It will tax your ingenuity to put up a bird feeder with a shelf that cardinals can sit on, but squirrles cannot dominate. This is only worth doing if you have many robust shrubs, with the possibility of having cardinals nearby.

Preventing Bird Diseases: Sometimes bird epidemics are spread when many birds crowd and feed together. There are 2 ways to combat this: 1. Scrub feeders every 2 weeks with a solution of a little bleach and lots of hot water. And 2. Vary the area where you feed birds. Move feeders around now and then (especially areas where you spread seed on the ground).

Seasons: You will notice that birds flock to your feeders in October and November, but in early December there is a drop in activity. That’s because many species are more migratory that people realize. Many Chickadees and Blue Jays, for example move through Maine in the fall and spend the winter in Massachusetts or Connecticut. Only the hardy ones spend the winter with us in Maine. If we are lucky, northern visitors like Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, or Redpolls will visit Maine feeders in January or February. And in March, early spring migrants will return up to liven the backyard again.

When to feed: It’s good to feed birds now through April at least. But, if you have to go away for a few weeks, don’t feel guilty about your birds. It is a myth that they become dependent on your feeder. Several careful ornithological studies have shown that all “feeder birds” eat 80% wild food, and only 20% feeder food, typically acquired from several different feeders.

A hawk killing a bird at your feeder: There is little you can do about this. Try attitude-management—tell yourself you are feeding a bird at a higher level in the food chain.

A bird getting killed by flying into your window: You can buy or make hawk-shaped decals to put on the outside of your window. And (this is counterintuitive) you can move your feeders closer to the window; birds will not build up a fatal speed as they fly from your feeder.

People with questions about feeding birds can call the Fields Pond Nature Center at 989-2591.

Other Web Sites for Maine Birding

Official Audubon Sites: National Audubon
Maine Audubon Headquarters
York County Audubon
Midcoast Audubon 
Merrymeeting Audubon
Other Maine sites:
Maine Birding TrailMaine Birding
Stanton Bird Club
Orono Bog Walk Trail
Birds of New England
Birding Acadia National Park
Puffin Tours:
Norton Puffin Trips – Machias Seal
Bold Coast – Machias Seal
Sea Watch Tours – Machias Seal
Hardy Boat – Eastern Egg Rock

Other Web Sites for Maine Outdoors

The Penobscot Valley Chapter is especially pleased to recommend Maine Nature.
For general info in the state, check out and Maine.Info.