Questions about Feeding Wild Birds

Questions about Feeding Wild Birds

When is the best time to start?

     Usually, whenever the weather is severe, birds will appreciate a reliable supplemental food source. In northern areas, start before the onset of cold weather so birds have time to find the feeder.

When’s the best time to stop?

     Although you can feed birds year -round, especially with fruit and nectar, you can stop feeding seeds once a reliable supply of insects is available in the spring.

Is it best to stop feeding hummingbirds after Labor Day?

    There is no evidence that feeding hummingbirds after Labor Day will keep them from migrating. In fact, it may help a weakened straggler refuel for the long haul. Leave your nectar feeders out until the birds stop coming.

How long does it take for birds to find a feeder? 

     It may take more time for birds to find window feeders than hanging or pole-mounted feeders. You may want to wrap aluminum foil around the top of the feeder hanger. Sometimes all it takes is the reflection of light on the foil to catch their attention.

My feeder is full of seeds. I haven’t seen a bird in months. Am I doing something wrong?

     When birds desert your feeder, it may be simply that a lot of natural food is available nearby Or something may be wrong, such as spoiled seeds or a contaminated feeder. Throw the seeds away and wash the feeder. Look at where your feeder is placed. Be sure it’s not vulnerable to predators. At the same time, make sure it is not in an open area, away from the cover in which birds usually travel.

Will birds’ feet stick to metal feeders and perches in the wet winter weather?

     Birds don’t have sweat glands in their feet, so they won’t freeze onto metal feeders. There’s no need to cover any metal feeders parts with plastic or wood to protect birds’ feet, tongues or eyes.

Do wild birds need grit?

     Birds have no teeth to grind their food. The dirt, sand, pebbles, and grit they eat sit in their crop and help grind up their food. Adding grit to your feeder is helpful, particularly in the winter and spring. Crushed eggshells do the same thing, and in the spring have an added benefit: they provide birds with extra calcium for producing eggs of their own.

Can birds choke on peanut butter?

     There is no evidence that birds can choke on peanut butter. However, birds have no salivary glands. You can make it easier on them by mixing peanut butter with lard, cornmeal or grit. Your birds will appreciate drinking water too, from a bird bath or trough.

Won’t suet go bad in the summer?

     In the winter, raw beef fat from the local butcher is all you need for your suet feeder. When temperatures rise, raw fat can melt and get rancid. It’s safer to use commercially rendered suet cakes in the spring and summer months. Rendering (boiling) the fat kills bacteria.

What is hummingbird nectar? Do hummers need nectar fortified with vitamins and minerals?

     You can make your own hummingbird nectar by adding 1/4cup of sugar to a cup of boiling water. Remember, sugar water will ferment when left in the hot sun, turning nectar deadly. Do not put out a nectar feeder if you are not willing to clean it at least weekly, preferably twice a week.

{Hummingbird image} Hummers eat insects for their protein. There is no evidence that these tiny birds need vitamin and mineral supplements. There is also no evidence that adding red food coloring to nectar will harm the birds, but it probably is not necessary to attract them. Just put your feeder near red flowers or buy a red hummingbird feeder.

How can I avoid bees at my hummingbird feeder?

     Bees will inevitably visit your hummingbird feeder, especially in hot weather. Little plastic bee guards may help keep them from getting nectar but it won’t stop them from trying. Don’t take the chance of contaminating your nectar by putting vegetable oil around the feeding portals. One solution is to add a few small feeders away from where people are likely to be bothered by bees.

How close to my window can I put a feeder?

     Birds will come right to your window. Sometimes it takes a while for them to overcome their initial reluctance, so be patient. Don’t worry that a feeder on the window will cause birds to fly into the window. Birds fly into the window because they see the reflection of the woods. Window feeders and decals help break up the reflection.

Is cracked corn coated with a red dye safe to use?

     No. The red or pink coating is capstan, a fungicide used on seeds meant for planting. If you buy a bag of cracked corn or other seed treated with capstan, return it to the store. It can kill horses, other mammals, and wild birds.

I bought a bag of sunflower seeds early in the spring. Over the summer first noticed worms, then moths. What can I do to keep the bugs out?

     Moths lay their eggs in sunflower seeds. The eggs lay dormant as long as the seeds are stored in a cool dry place. In the summer, seeds get hot and the eggs hatch. The best way to avoid this problem is to buy seeds in smaller quantities or store your seeds in a cool, dry place. It also helps to know where your retailer stores the seed. An air-conditioned storage unit is the better choice.

     Insects also lay their eggs in burlap bags. Don’t buy seeds in burlap bags. Don’t buy seed in paper and plastic bags with patched holes. That may be a sign of insect or rodent infestation.

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