Wildlife: Time to fill the bird feeders

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When morning low temperatures dip into the 30s, it's time to get serious about filling backyard bird feeders. Here's a guide to wild birds' favorite foods.

Black-oil sunflower in tubes or hopper feeders is best because its shells are thin and easy to crack, and it has a high oil (read: energy) content. Virtually every seed-eating bird eats black-oil seeds.

Striped sunflower seed has a thicker shell making it more difficult to crack. It's a favorite of cardinals, grosbeaks and blue jays.

Hulled sunflower seeds are more expensive, but every ounce of kernels is eaten. There's no mess, no waste.

Though sunflower kernels are a terrific food, they must be kept dry. In my backyard tests, Goldcrest's All-Weather Feeder and Droll Yankees' Big Top are truly weatherproof.

Nyjer, the tiny black seeds often incorrectly called "thistle," attract finches to specially designed finch tubes. Imported from Africa and southeast Asia, Nyjer is more expensive than sunflower seed, but its high oil content makes it great winter food. And Nyjer is not an invasive weed. In fact, it is sterilized at U.S. ports of entry so it does not germinate.

Nuts of various types are another more expensive bird food, but their appeal to species such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers justifies the expense. Peanuts, walnuts and almonds are the more familiar nuts that are now commonly found in better quality nut mixes. Stainless steel wire mesh tubes require birds to remove individual nuts so they disappear slowly from this type of feeder.

White and red millet, corn kernels and cracked corn attract a variety of ground-feeding sparrows, game birds and waterfowl, as well as pigeons, grackles and squirrels. To discourage species you find undesirable, limit the amount of these seeds you offer.

Milo, wheat and oats are used as a filler in cheaper seed mixes. Read seed mix labels and avoid blends that contain these cereal grains.

There's only one reason to feed wild birds -- that's because we enjoy watching them. Matching our favorite birds to their favorite foods and feeders is the best way to ensure an enjoyable winter feeding season.


Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at www.wvly.net. Or visit his web site www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033. First Published October 12, 2013 8:00 PM


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