- What do wild birds like to eat?
There are almost as many bird diets as there are birds. Robins eat earthworms; sparrows eat seeds; owls eat mice; herons eat frogs; and oystercatchers eat oysters. The Everglade kite eats snail; the albatross eats squid; the kookaburra of Australia eats lizards. The elf owl of the American Southwest eats scorpions (first nipping off and discarding the deadly stinger). The tawny eagle of Africa eats everything from locusts to dead elephants; and geese eat grass.
The very favorite food of most wild birds is insects. When given a choice, birds will take insects, their eggs and larvae before seeds. When insects are plentiful, birds will visit feeders less frequently. We don't provide insects for birds to eat, so providing seeds they like is the best we can do.
Feeding wild birds is fun and easy. Black Oil Sunflower seeds, cracked corn, safflower and millet are all wild bird favorites. If you buy commercial bird feed, make certain that you are getting some of these seeds in your feed mix. Birdola® Products' Birdola®Plus™ is a gourmet seed blend that contains all these seeds, as well as peanuts, calcium, grit, and added vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. This gives as complete a meal as you will find in packaged seed mixes. Birdola® contains no "junk" seeds (like oats, wheat, and sawgrass) that most birds will shuffle through, and kick out of the feeder. Smaller songbirds love Nyjer (incorrectly called Niger Thistle) seed. Nyjer, safflower, sunflower hearts, peanut hearts and millet make up Birdola® Products' Finch Black Gold™, an excellent mix for smaller songbirds.
Outside of prepared mixes, birds like a great variety of foods. They like melon, squash, and pumpkin seeds. Blue jays like corn right off the cob, and chickadees like coconut. Peanuts and popcorn are as popular at the feeder as they are at ballgames!
And just like those feeder-robbing squirrels, birds are fond of nuts like acorns, hickory nuts, and beechnuts. They also like nuts that we eat, like peanuts, walnuts and pecans. Before putting hard-shelled nuts in your feeder, break the shells with a hammer, so all birds can get to the meat inside.
During the cold winter months here in the north, birds use an incredible amount of energy trying to stay warm. It is vital to feed birds food that is high in protein and fat content. The fat in suet provides the valuable energy that birds need to survive. Suet will attract a great variety of species, like woodpeckers, chickadees, tanagers, orioles and nuthatches.
Many birds love fruit as well. Put out apple, pear, and orange halves. Orioles and finches are especially fond of oranges. Many birds like grapes, which you should squash a little to make for easier eating, and fresh or frozen blueberries. Bluebirds, robins, and mockingbirds all like raisins and currants, which should be soaked in water to plump them before being placed in the feeder.
Broken up bits of muffin, and dry cereal (birds like Cheerios) are also favorites. They also like oatmeal, raw or cooked. Some birds, such as warblers and orioles, like sweets, so try putting out little saucers of jam or jelly. Don't leave the treats too long, or you'll attract insects or bees!
- Do birds need water?
Yes! If you are feeding wild birds, you should have water available close by. A nice bird bath works well. The water is then elevated, so birds can drink and bathe without worrying about predators. Birds need water to drink, but just as important, they need water to preen and clean their feathers. This keeps them in top flying shape. It is especially important to have water available in the winter. Birds can eat snow, but it takes valuable energy to warm and melt the snow. Here in Michigan, the species that stay all winter will spend nearly all day eating to store energy to keep warm through the long winter nights. There are a number of inexpensive bird bath heaters available. At the very least, put out fresh, warm water daily during the winter. Even if you don't have a feeder, water will attract passing birds.
- What is the "Blue List"?
Is it like the Endangered Species List?
The Blue List is a national list of bird populations that are declining in a region. The list is maintained by the Audubon Society. It is different from the Endangered and Threatened Species lists, which are published by government agencies.
The Audubon Society's Blue List tracks any bird that is dropping in numbers in any area, so they can try and find a cause. A bird can be placed on the Blue List if its population is dropping in New England, for example, even if national or world population has not changed significantly.
The Blue List is a tool to help find out why the numbers of any kind of bird are declining, as soon as it is known they are declining. The Blue List is like an early warning system for bird populations.
An endangered species is one whose world population is extremely low, approaching the time when the species is in danger of becoming extinct. By the time a bird makes it onto the endangered species list, it may already be too late to save the species.
- Is ground cover really necessary?
Yes. Birds are basically shy, and will seek food that has cover nearby. Bushes and shrubs offer ideal hiding areas for wild birds. As mentioned above, some birds will visit a feeder briefly, take their favorite seed and fly back to their cover to eat. Many birds will stay at the feeder while they eat. This can make for great watching, but birds still need an escape route in case of danger. Having shrubbery nearby works great, and will make your birds feel safe and secure.
- How can I identify the birds that visit my backyard?
There are a number of very fine field guides available. Among the most popular are the Donald and Lillian Stokes Field Guides, and Roger Tory Peterson Field Guides. These guides are divided according to region, so you can specify your area of the country. They have pictures and descriptions, as well as information on mating patterns, summer and winter areas, food and housing preferences and other information. Your local library or bookstore can offer a wealth of guides and birding information. There are also a number of organizations that can be very helpful, like the National Audubon Society, and Cornell Ornithology Lab.
- How can I keep pigeons out of my yard?
Pigeons are generally ground feeders. If you use bulk seed, there is probably a pile of seeds under your feeder. This is just what pigeons like. A good start is to make sure and clean under your feeders regularly. Many bulk mixes contain some seeds that certain birds don't like. Birds will kick and shuffle aside the seeds they don't want. It is inevitable that some seed spills onto the ground. Regular cleaning under the feeder will help. We suggest a Birdola® feeder and cake. First of all, pigeons are too large to land on the feeder. Second, our blend is such that there are no undesirable seeds in the mix. Third, and most important, birds land and peck their favorite seed from the Birdola® cake and the rest stays intact. This means no loose seed falling under the feeder. There will still be empty husks under the feeder, so occasional cleaning under the feeder will keep your yard neat. No seeds on the ground is the best way to keep pigeons away. And remember, cake feeding is the healthiest way to feed wild birds, because when birds shuffle and evacuate in loose seed, they can spread disease.
- Where should I place my feeder?
Hang your feeder in a tree about 6 feet high, and about 6 feet out from the trunk. This gives safety from predators, as well as natural cover. Ideally, there should be bushes nearby. Some species like to roost near the feeder, swoop in, take a seed, and fly back to their cover. You can also mount your feeder on a pole. Try to place it near cover for the birds.
- How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeder?
As long as people have been feeding wild birds, squirrels have been a problem. They love most of the same seeds and nuts that birds like so much. It's not that we dislike squirrels, it's just that they can dominate a feeder for extended periods, keeping the birds away. They also eat a lot, and you will find yourself refilling the feeder often. Squirrels have nothing to do all day, except to figure out how to get to your bird feeder. There are some things you can do to protect your bird feeder. The easiest way is to place a squirrel feeder in an area far away from your bird feeder. The squirrel feeder should be easily accessible to the squirrel. If the squirrel can reach good food easily, he will avoid the struggle of trying to invade the bird feeder. Birdola® Products makes a feeder and cake of feed created specially for squirrels, called Squirola® . Squirola contains corn, black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts. It can keep your squirrels busy for extended periods of time. Another method is to feed with seeds that squirrels do not like. There aren't many seeds that squirrels don't like, but one is safflower. Squirrels seem to leave safflower alone. Birdola® Products manufactures a cake made entirely of safflower seeds. Most wild birds like safflower, so the mix of birds visiting your feeder will be about the same. The last method we recommend is to use a squirrel baffle. A baffle, usually made of plastic or metal, attaches to the hanging chain and forms a protective cone around the feeder. Squirrels can't climb down the chain and reach the feeder, and the baffle makes it hard to jump onto the feeder from nearby branches. Stovepipe baffles are also available for poles and are very effective. Birds still have easy access to the feeder.
- Is feeding wild birds only a winter activity?
Many people think that birds only visit feeders during the winter. Wild birds will visit your feeder year-round, although less frequently during the summer. Insects, larvae, and berries are plentiful during the warm months, but birds will round out their diet with seeds. If you use Birdola®Plus™, you are providing valuable vitamin, mineral and electrolyte supplements. This helps to assure a more complete, healthy diet for your wild birds. So, always keep your feeder filled, and you will see a variety of wild birds all year.