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Join A Bird Feeding Club
by John Harmon
November 28, 1999

With all the new snow and cold weather it's time to start feeding the birds. I know there is considerable controversy about the subject of feeding birds. There are many people who feel that feeding any wild animal or bird is not a good idea. Some folks feel the birds will become dependant on the food people provide and that will weaken their ability to fend for themselves if the food provided by people is taken away.

Turns out this isn't the case. Birds feed at the spots that provide the most food with the least expenditure of energy. If your feeder is empty they will go on to the next feeding spot. Small birds like chickadees eat up to 100% of their body weight every day. The colder it is the more they have to eat. Their body temperature is about 20% higher than ours and they burn calories faster the colder it gets. So far this year it hasn't been very cold but we all know that can change overnight.

Feeding suet in the winter will help give birds the energy they need for the long cold nights. They are forced to find perches for the night at dusk. With our long nights in the north it makes for a long time till breakfast. I like to make suet/fat blocks. I save fat from cooking like bacon grease along with whatever else is available in a container. When there's enough I take an empty margarine container and fill it about halfway with mixed bird seed. Then melt the fat down to liquid and pour it over the seed. Depending on what kind of fat is in the mix it makes a solid block when it cools to put out on the feeder. The birds don't seam to care what kind of grease the mix is. Suet or beef fat can be had from the local grocery stores for free. It will make it easier on the birds if you grind large pieces up like hamburger and it keeps the bigger birds from carrying off the chunks whole.

When I suggested this last year someone e-mailed me wondering about the salt in bacon fat being bad for the birds. I don't think birds have a long enough life span to worry about long term effects like clogging their arteries and besides they burn it up fast in the winter. Here's what the National Bird-Feeding Society has to say about the subject. "We aren't aware of any studies on the effects of bacon grease on the health of birds. We would not recommend this practice because of its attraction of other, perhaps unwelcome, visitors. It is better to feed birds suet, a fat from near beef kidneys even though salt does not harm birds."

Any good wild bird seed mix will do but I like to buy the components separately and mix up my own. Red and white millet are a good base to add oil type sunflower seeds to. Oil type seeds are the ones that are smaller and solid black. Then a little cracked corn, safflower and canary seed to finish it off. If I'm feeling flush I'll add some niger seed but it's better to feed that from it's own feeder.

Whatever seed you feed if it gets wet a mold called Aspergillus can grow on the seed and will make the birds sick. Clean out seed that has been spoiled and give the feeder a cleaning with a ten percent bleach solution to get rid of any mold. The cleaner everything is the safer it will be for visiting birds.

Watching the birds attracted to your feeder can be great entertainment all winter and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you made the long dark a little easier for the birds. For more information and to learn more about the ways to become better friends to the birds you can join a club like the National Bird-Feeding Society. They provide information and publish The Bird's-Eye reView, a bi-monthly newsletter filled with tips, tactics and tales, a full-color backyard Bird ID and Seed Preference Chart, the Basics of backyard Bird Feeding, our guide to bird feeding and much more. Write to them at National Bird-Feeding Society, PO Box 23L, Northbrook, IL, 60065-0023. Their website is

In Canada check out Bird Studies Canada at or contact them at Bird Studies Canada/√Čtudes d'Oiseaux Canada P.O. Box 160, Port Rowan, Ontario, Canada, N0E 1M0. Their phone is 1-888-448-BIRD or fax at 1-519-586-3532. By e-mail it's

Bird Studies Canada also has information at their website on Project Feeder Watch. It began as the Ontario Bird Feeder Survey in 1976, sponsored by the Long Point Bird Observatory. In 1987, it grew to become a continental survey of winter birds that visit backyard feeders in North America. The information collected helps ornithologists track changes in the abundance and distribution of bird species that use feeders in the winter. Project Feeder Watch is now managed by Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology with additional support from the Canadian Nature Federation and National Audubon Society. It will cost you to join but the information you provide will be valuable.

Even if you don't join a club feeding the birds will provide many hours of enjoyment over the long dark.

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail Website:

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