Winter is here and so are the winter birds. Blue jays, chickadees, sparrows, dark-eyed Junko and mourning doves are regular visitors to the feeders outside the kitchen window. This spot is great for the kids to watch the antics of the various types fleeting from juniper tree to feeder to maple tree. When the squirrel arrives to indulge in peanuts, then everyone—including the birds—get excited.
My feeder wasn’t always popular. When I first began feeding the birds, I bought cheap feed. After all, it was for the birds; I didn’t have to eat it. However, very few birds took advantage of the free food. Who could blame them; the stuff looked like dried grated corn.
I didn’t know the feed was the problem at first. Instead of changing it, I moved the feeder away from the window to a chestnut tree on the lawn. I thought the birds would prefer the open area to watch for predators.
I was wrong. The feeder was just as unpopular in its new location.
After reading a few articles on feeding birds, I decided to switch to a higher quality food. Bingo! The feeder became popular. Since then, I moved the feeder back to the kitchen window where the birds can dart in and out of the trees and where the kids can watch.
When the wind blows or the snow falls, the juniper trees become a natural shelter where the birds gather regardless if there is food. Now that I’ve learnt cheap isn’t the way to go, however, they can have shelter and a meal.
Although some feed spills to the ground, I’m not worried. Mourning doves are ground feeders and they clean it up.
When it comes to feed, I’ve learnt small black-oil sunflower seeds have the widest appeal. These high energy seeds are easily broken by small birds. Millet is another seed type widely used in bird feeders. It’s an excellent feed for smaller birds. Unsalted peanuts mixed with either of these seeds delight woodpeckers, blue jays and chickadees.
Besides the bird seed in a feeder, suet cakes in various shapes add an extra treat during those cold winter days. Woodpeckers, chickadees, blue jays and nuthatches enjoy these.
In general, small feeders hung about shoulder height will attract small birds such as chickadees, finches and nuthatches. Feeders low to the ground attract ground feeders such as the mourning dove and native sparrows. Open platform feeders will attract larger birds such as grosbeaks and blue jays, but smaller birds will still take advantage of them.
My feeder is a top-loading hopper which allows seeds to gradually spill out as needed, but there are many feeder designs out there. Hoppers, gazebo feeders, tube feeders and platform feeders of various shapes and sized are the most popular, but I’ve seen some made from cola bottles and gourds.
Chickadees, dark-eyed Juncos and blue jays are popular in Nova Scotia during the winter. They are not fussy. They will eat from most types of feeders containing black oil sunflower seeds, thistle seed, peanuts and suet cakes.
Blue jays are notorious tricksters and many bird enthusiasts do not like them at their feeders. Since they eat everything the popular birds eat from any type of feeder, it is not surprising they are hard to deter.
As for deterring squirrels from the feeder, that is a whole other story. We only have one—Snowflake—that occasionally makes an appearance, so he really isn’t a pest.
[This article previously appeared as a Garden Tales column, published in a few Nova Scotia newspapers before 2006.]