Small birds need high energy foods to survive in a variety of outdoor conditions year round. When buying bird seed be sure to pick blends made up mainly of oil seeds like niger, sunflower or canola. Avoid blends with grains like wheat or oats and corn. Different seeds provide different nutrients so try to find a blend with a few different oil seeds.
Planting is an excellent way to ensure you meet the needs of all kinds of birds throughout the seasons. Planting and nurturing a variety of native perennials, shrubs and trees provides natural food and shelter. Feeders allow you to supplement your plantings with a greater diversity of food and are a great way to see birds up close.
Keeping feeding stations well-stocked throughout the winter is important. Many bird species cover large areas in their search for food and a feeder is just one stop of many. Territorial birds, however, may have set up their winter territory based on the presence of a particular feeding station as an important food source so it’s helpful to fill the feeders when you’ll be away for a short time and ask a neighbour to take over if you’re gone for longer.
To help make feeding stations safe for birds place your feeder at least four metres from windows and put stickers or reflectors on windows. Store seeds properly and clean the feeder regularly.
ATTRACTING DIFFERENT TYPES OF BIRDS
Birds are different shapes, sizes and colours and each prefers different types of food. The best way to attract a wide variety of birds is to provide an assortment of food at several different feeders.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Songbird Medley is designed to attract small song birds such as finches and warblers. The small seeds in this mix work best in platform-type feeders or in feeders with small screens to prevent spillage.
CWF’s Vibrance is designed to attract medium to large birds. Used in different feeders these seed blends can help reduce conflict at the feeders among large and small birds.
Spreading some seed on the ground is a simple way to start! Just be sure to place the seed far away from places where cats can hide.
Most birds will use a platform feeder so installing one will help attract many different birds. Birds that like to feed on the ground, like juncos and sparrows, will also use platform feeders that allow better protection from predators. These feeders are easy to make but leave seeds open to the elements. Bird droppings or rain can soil the seed. Be sure to clean the platform regularly and replace your seed every couple of days.
Hopper feeders are generally box-shaped and dispense seeds by gravity. They keep seed clean, dry and readily available even in a snowstorm. Features to look for are visibility of seed level, ability to hold a good quantity of seed, ease of mounting and ease of access for cleaning. If you’re looking for a hopper feeder made of wood, weather-resistant cedar is a good choice. Hopper feeders can hold a lot of seed, which is convenient. They do, however, provide easy access for squirrels.
There are many styles available. These tubes keep seed dry, prevent bird droppings in the seed and reduce squirrels from getting the seed. The perches are usually small and so attract small birds like finches and chickadees but discourage larger birds. Before filling a tube feeder be sure to empty uneaten seed at the bottom.
- Place bird feeders near trees or shrubs – preferably evergreen – to provide birds with shelter.
- Consider year-round access for refilling.
- Keep feeders away from decks as spilled seeds can attract rodents.
- Use feeders with large trays to prevent spills and clean up seeds that do spill.
- Place feeders in locations visible from your windows so you can enjoy the visitors you attract but remember to leave four metres and to use reflectors, stickers, drapes, paper or foil streamers to reduce collisions.
- To attract a diversity of birds put out a variety of feeders.
- Separating food types and feeders will help give smaller birds a chance to eat without being scared away by larger birds. For example, CWF’s Songbird Medley is designed for smaller birds while CWF’s Vibrance birdseed blend is designed for larger birds.
- Some birds, such as finches, prefer hanging feeders with individual perches. You can also hang tubular feeders with short or no perches for small birds and put out hopper feeders for larger birds.
- The preferred food choice is usually sunflower seeds, which attract birds like purple finches, cardinals, goldfinches, grosbeaks, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches and many other species. Black oil sunflower seeds are especially favoured because of their higher oil and calorie content.
- Niger seed is a favourite of goldfinches and also appeals to pine siskins and house finches. It requires a special tube feeder with tiny slots.
- A wide variety of commercial birdseed mixes are available. Mixes that contain oats, rice, corn or wheat can attract pests and are low in nutrients needed by birds in Canada. Look for seed high in oil content, such as CWF’s Songbird Medley and Vibrance, which are designed based on the natural nutrients birds need.
- Do not put out salty, mouldy or sugary foods
- Some birds require a source of grit to help them digest their food. Clean sand, budgie gravel or canary grit sprinkled on the floor of your platform feeder will help to meet this need.
You can make your own grit by rinsing eggshells, baking them at 120 C for about 20 minutes and finely grinding them.
• Fresh fruits, such as currants, cranberries and oranges can attract birds such as robins. If you use dried fruit, soak it in water first.
• Add a source of clean water in spring, summer and fall. Heated bird baths in very cold winter weather can create problems for birds.
Suet is a high energy food for chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and other insect-eating birds that appreciate a source of animal fat in winter. You can either buy commercially made suet or make your own.
- Coated wire suet holders can be placed in a variety of locations and birds will not get caught in them.
- If you are buying suet, look for one with high sunflower and niger seeds to balance the saturated and unsaturated fats birds need.
- To make your own suet, buy raw beef fat or suet from the butcher, grind it up and mix it with seeds or dried fruit. Store it in the freezer.
- You can use a wide variety of treats when making suet, including acorns, chopped nuts, seeds and fresh chopped fruit. Experiment to see what your birds like the most.
- Remove old suet from feeders in warm weather to prevent it from going rancid.
- Hang the suet feeder from a branch or on a dead tree. Placing it on the trunk of a live tree can invite invasions by tree-damaging insects and fungi.
- Don’t tie the suet with string as birds can get their feet tangled up.
- In the summer use commercially prepared suet, place it in the shade, clean frequently and return the suet to the fridge overnight.
BIRD FEEDER PESTS
Feeders can also attract some less welcome species. Examine your feeding strategy and consider adjustments based on what is attracting the problem.
- Mixes with a high proportion of hulled oats, rice, peanut hearts, corn, millet or wheat can attract pigeons, racoons or squirrels.
- Use specially adapted feeders – weight sensitive or with a metal cage – that allow smaller birds to feed but keep out most large birds and squirrels.
- Place feeders on posts with a baffle underneath. A baffle is a disc or cone designed to keep squirrels from climbing the pole.
- Use metal feeders to prevent squirrels from chewing and damaging your feeder.
- Don’t place feeders on decks where spilled seed can attract rodents.
- Store seed in rodent-proof containers.
- Use feeders with large trays or higher edges to keep feed from falling to the ground. Clean spilled seed from underneath feeders.
- Keep cats indoors. Domestic cats are predators that hunt instinctively even when not hungry. Free-roaming cats have a serious impact on bird populations and often take advantage of bird feeding areas.
- Place feeders and bird baths farther than pouncing distance from dense shrubbery or other places where cats can hide. Provide shelter beyond this distance to help birds hide from predators.
- If you have serious problems with pests it may be necessary to stop feeding birds for a while
- Realize that limiting access for problem species may also hinder desirable species with similar feeding habits.
Bird feeders entail some responsibility. Regular cleaning is important to ensure that they don’t become a source of disease or contamination.
- Empty feeders every month and wash them with hot water and a stiff brush. Clean the edges and discard any damp seed. Allow feeders to dry completely before refilling.
- Clean off your bird feeders promptly during and after a snowfall. Make sure feeders are full of seed, especially after heavy snow or during icy-cold weather. Small birds work very hard to stay warm and need good quality food when the temperature falls below zero.
- Keep your bird feeders clean and dry. Food can spoil easily when wet.