October 7, 2010

This One's for the Birds!

The Maine House has been in full swing of our latest hobby! Feeding the birds!! Autumn and chilly weather are finally here in New England and we are beginning to clear the gardens of their spring and summer accents and preparing the gardens and bird feeders for the approaching winter. Today was rather chilly, 52 degrees, blustery and cold rain!

 It is a wonderful project to incorporate into your family and a time to teach children how to feed and care for our feathered friends during those harsh winter months.

 The gift they provide to us, as their human caretakers, is returned ten-fold by their display of beauty and color!

Wild birds are already making decisions about which back yards they will visit this winter. Fall is the season to begin, even though natural foods are plentiful and the birds may not spend much time at your feeder yet. They are out in the fields and woods, feasting on seeds, berries and insects.

The birds that do visit feeders in the abundance of autumn are scouting. They need to be ready when cold weather hits.
Cold will increase their calorie requirements, right at the moment that food becomes harder to get. Insects stop flying and wiggling. Snow covers seeds. Ice seals away tree buds, wild fruits, and the insects that woodpeckers and nuthatches like to find under the bark of trees. So they need to be ready. That's whey they're studying their resources in advance. Noting where food is available, seeking alternatives,taking inventory of contingent provisions.

It's good to be included in their inventories. If the birds discover that your yard is worth visiting, they'll remember. And when that first storm hits, they'll show up, hungry, chirpy and chattery. Red and blue and black-and-white and yellow. Fun to look at on a snowy day.

On the other hand, if you wait until hard weather arrives, the birds may not ever realize what you have to offer. Under the stress of freezing weather, they can't afford the luxury of exploring. They must go where they know there will be a payoff. They might not discover your feeder all winter, even though it is abundantly supplied, so start offering provisions now.

Some good examples of foods to offer are seeds such as black oil sunflower, white millet, niger, safflower, cracked corn, broken nuts.Offer suet in hanging baskets, for woodpeckers.We are also going to try some chopped up fruits.

Don't worry about them if you have to be gone from your home for a while in winter. Birds are used to having a food source disappear. They won't starve because of your lapse. It might take them a while to rediscover your yard when you return, but they'll be back.

One of the best ways to get the birds into your yard is to provide unfrozen water, replenished daily. Sometimes water is harder to come by in winter than food. When the temps stay below freezing, some kind of heater is needed to keep the water unfrozen.You can get a heating element that soaks in your bird bath and turns on whenever the water begins to freeze, or purchase a bird bath with the warmer built in.

 One of the best such designs I've seen is a plastic bath so light that you can lift it with one finger, but which looks like a boulder with a natural hollow for the water.

What birds will come?You'll attract the birds of your own region. A Maine bird feeder will have northern cardinals, while someone in Mississippi might get bluejays.

If you have some thick trees such as evergreens for shelter in your yard you'll probably also attract chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. In each part of the country you'll get species characteristic of your region. Generally you'll attract the most common species of your locale.

We love going to shop for various birdhouses. The designs are rather plentiful. You can go simple or elaborate, depending on how much time, money, and space you have to devote to the subject.  Most people who feed birds do several of these things.The simplest is just to toss the birdseed on the ground. Many birds enjoy eating at or near the ground. A step up is to put it on a porch railing, where it won't get so dirty.Better yet, put it under your eaves, where it won't get wet, either. One of the most successful feeders we've used was a lobster buoy that we hollowed and wrapped with wire. We suspended from a tree. The chickadees loved it!

A variety of feeding locations will bring you more kinds of birds than a single feeder, because each species will find its own preferred level and location.
If you want to get more elaborate, you can sink a post into the ground and mount a platform at the top. Put a bit of molding around the edge to keep the seeds from rolling off. Let the molding leak at the corners so that the feeder doesn't fill up with water.You might want to buy a hanging tube feeder with small holes for thistle or niger.
Whatever you use, be sure to put your birdfeeder where you can watch the birds from where you live. We even have the pleasure of Wild Turkey families in our back woods....very exciting indeed!!  Enjoy the chirps of chickadees while you're eating. Start now......... You'll enjoy the birds all winter long!

Homemade Bird Feeders
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup peanut butter
1 1/4 cups bird seed
Pine Cones

Combine cornmeal, peanut butter and bird seed. Tie a string on the pinecones and smear with the mixture. Hang up in trees outside for birds.

"In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence."
Robert Lynd (1879 - 1949)

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