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Backyard birdfeeding

Feeding birds in winter not only benefits the birds by providing them with food when resources are scarce but it also provides us humans with daily entertainment. Be sure to locate your birdfeeders not only where they will be convenient for the birds, but also where they are easily visible indoors from your favorite resting spot, such as the chair where you drink your morning coffee or the window over the kitchen sink. The most important consideration in feeding birds is choosing a location that provides them with protection and cover from predators. Trees for perching and shrubs with dense branches are important. If your yard is windy, try planting a group of shrubs together to form a windbreak. The family cat is a hunter by nature; if your cat is successful at catching birds you ought to reconsider attracting birds to your yard. Fastening a bell to the cat's collar as a warning to birds is rarely successful. The popular songbirds can be divided into three categories to help you decide which food to provide: insect eaters, seed eaters and fruit eaters. Insect eaters include the chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers. They will be attracted to beef suet and peanut butter. Suet can be hung in plastic mesh bags or in plastic coated wire boxes. Peanut butter can be spread on pinecones or into wide holes drilled into a slender log and hung from branches. Be sure to offer this food only during cold weather or it can become rancid and make the birds sick. On a similar note, do not give birds moldy bread or spoiled food from the kitchen. These materials can be composted instead. The seed eating birds include cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, juncos, finches, grosbeaks, redpolls and pine siskins. Their favorite seeds are sunflower (especially the black oil variety which is higher in energy), white millet and finely cracked corn. Seed mixtures often contain a lot of filler seeds such as milo and red millet that the birds don't like. Because there is less wasted seed, it really is more economical to buy individual bags of seeds and create your own mix. Or, to avoid competition at the feeder, use several smaller feeders, each with its own type of seed. Thistle or niger seed is particularly beloved by goldfinches and pine siskins. Because the seed is so small you need a special type of feeder with smaller holes. This seed is more expensive than the others but it lasts a long time. The fruit eating birds include robins, bluebirds, mocking birds and cedar waxwings. These birds don't usually overwinter in our area, but you may observe flocks of them visiting your crabapple or other fruiting tree or shrub in the fall on their way south. Children are usually fascinated by watching birds. Try making a chart and keeping track of how many of each variety of bird you see. Also notice how the birds get along with eachother at the feeder. You will rarely see two different species at the feeder at the same time. And even the cheerful chickadees have a clear pecking order within their flock. Watch them closely and you will be able to find the dominant birds in the group. Children, with their sharp eyes, can be excellent bird watchers!

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