Strictly For The Birds
by John Harmon
November 15, 1998

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 than I can spell it. What the heck is that rule about "i" before "e" anyway.

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.

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. I found some little plastic feeders that screw on to the end of a two liter pop bottle at Canadian Tire that are only a couple of bucks and make a great hanging feeder for niger seed. I was surprised to see the jays hang from the feeder and eat the niger seed and the chickadees eating the sunflower seeds. I thought the chickadees would stick to eating the small seeds. 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.

Don't limit yourself to seed. Wiskeyjacks like nothing better than a plain old piece of bread. They will haul it off and hide it for use later. I've been told they can remember up to a thousand hiding places. When I was clearing some land out back and cut down a spruce I found an old cache while I was cutting limbs close to the top of the tree. It was the foot of a coyote! Only way it could have been jammed that high in the tree is from a bird hiding it. Small pieces of apple or lettuce leaves are favorites of the jays and grosbeaks like berries as well as seeds. Woodpeckers will be attracted to chunks of fat fastened to a tree.

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. 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 this is the end

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