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Feeding Wild Birds

Summary: Feeding backyard birds can be entertaining and provide hours of pleasure with their antics and displays. A small investment in feeders, feed, water and nest boxes will pay big dividends. With a little effort, you can attract a variety of species to your backyard.

One of the best foods for attracting birds to your backyard is black oil sunflower seeds. This food appeals to a wide number of perching bird species such as Cardinals, Finches, Titmouse, Chickadees, and Blue jays. Even some of the clinging species such as Nuthatches and Woodpeckers will come to these feeders. The addition of suet feeders will attract more of the clinging species and suet provides needed fat for birds during colder periods to keep they high metabolism rates stoked.

Eastern Bluebirds are fun to observe and the placement of a few bird nesting boxes will attract them to your backyard. The nesting boxes should be about five inches high, five inches wide and eight inches deep. The entrance hole should be about one and one-half inches in diameter and six inches from the bottom of the box. The nesting box should be well ventilated and have drainage holes in the bottom. A sloping roof will shed water and a hinged front will facilitate cleaning.

Bluebird males start scouting for a nest cavity in February and after selection, will try to attract a female to the site for breeding and nesting. Bluebirds can successfully raise three broods per season. Observing the adults and the chicks is very entertaining.

Depending on your location, you might also enjoy visits by migrating Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings and other colorful species. The Grosbeaks are a dominant species and while they are on the feeders, other birds will maintain a safe distance.

In the southeast, spring is announced by the arrival of Robins and Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. The Robins will spend most of their time patrolling the lawn for earthworms and other insects, while the Hummingbirds will need to be attracted by special hummingbird feeders filled with commercial liquid food or a mixture of sugar and water. Mix four parts water with one part sugar and bring to a boil. Allow to cool and fill feeders and place in several spots around the yard. Don't place Hummingbird feeders near the seed feeders for other species, as it may discourage them from those locations. Any surplus sugar water may be refrigerated until needed.

Your feeders may be visited by Cooper's or Sharp-shinned hawks that will prey on one of the smaller species occasionally, but unfortunately, that is part of nature's way and will have to be accepted. It is a thrilling display to see a hawk take a bird from the air, reminding us that nature can be both beautiful and violent.

You can improve your bird habitat by planting shrubs to provide shelter. Including some evergreens will assure more shelter in cold weather when deciduous trees have shed their leaves. If you have a large property, leave some brush piles for birds and small mammals.  These shelters will also provide protection from predators.

If you haven't experienced the fun of backyard bird watching and feeding, you are missing a great opportunity. Make the investment and help to maintain a healthy bird population in your community. Winter months are particularly hard on songbirds and your efforts can make a big difference in their survival rates.

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