Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

December 13, 2012
Setting out bird feeders to attract birds can be a popular winter pastime

Have you heard the birds lately? The sounds of songbirds in the trees are gone for the winter. After all, everyone knows that birds fly south for the winter. On cold, drab days, I sometimes envy them and their good sense to go where the weather is warm.

The reality, however, is that while many birds do fly south during the cold months of the year, there are some who stay here. Bird watchers and bird observers know that.

I see them flying around during the winter months. They tend to gather in flocks that swoop down onto the ground. Then one of them will startle and swoop up into the sky and the others rush off helter-skelter as a feathered cloud after the nervous one. They land on wires or up in trees only for the process to repeat itself.

During the summer, gardeners in particular go to great lengths to drive birds out of their yards with scarecrows, flashing lights, rubber owls, intermittent abrupt noises and cats. However, perhaps it is the cold, snowy conditions of the winter months that cause people to reconsider and try to help the birds. The birds don’t care why. They just enjoy the extra help in the cold months.

Some people are less fickle and enjoy attracting and watching the birds all through the year.

Next to gardening, bird watching is the most popular and fastest growing outdoor hobby in the United States. Why is it such an attractive pastime? Some enthusiasts claim it’s the mystery that surrounds birds, while others say they are aesthetically pleasing. Still others admire birds’ ability to fly and the freedom that they have.

Whatever the reason, it’s always the season for bird watching.

Historically, bird lovers typically threw out crumbs, seeds or suet to attract the fancy of passing birds or they may have built a bird feeder as simple as a log with holes to hold bird treats.

Nowadays, people have moved to fancier feeders. Unlike their human observers, birds haven’t developed a propensity for designer feeders. Some people think that since they like a feeder that looks like a miniature house suitable for humans, the birds will feel the same way. However, according to wildlife specialists, many kinds of birds prefer to feed on the ground and they avoid entering little boxes or trap like devices.

They might be happier with a ground scattering of mostly sunflower seeds. A bit of millet or suet in a little area sheltered by plants will bring a variety of species. You may also put it out on a deck or other area close to a favorite window where you can watch them enjoy the bounty.

Bird feeders are most effective when the snow covers the ground and weeds and bushes with berries. If you have a barberry bush or similar plant that holds its fruit through the winter, you may have feathery visitors pilfering bright red berries during much of the winter.

If there is snow and food is scarce, more birds make brief visits to bird feeders. If we have a very snowy winter, birds do need some kind of feeder so that the food is available.

Put your feeder where birds can find it. They are pretty smart when it comes to survival. If the feeder is near the ground where cats can keep an eye on it, the birds will quickly learn to stay away. Keep in mind that these animals do have memories. During the summer, they often return to the same places where they found food in the winter.

If you have a bird lover in your family, you might want to give a bird feeder for a Christmas gift. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, but you certainly can. As the numbers of bird lovers have increased, businesses have sprung up to support the hobby.

There are now bird-watching cameras on the market. They have motion sensors that turn them on when the birds begin to flutter in.

There are literally dozens of different kinds of bird feeders in the form of transparent feeders that attach to windows with suction cups, round balls, little houses, trays and more. Some are designed to make it necessary for visitors to make an airborne landing – to protect it from the advances of squirrels.

If you decide you really do want to watch the birds, you may find it useful to lure the creatures from their normal habitat to a location where you can see them. Marketers say that it pays to advertise and it works with birds too. Scatter food widely in brushy areas near your home and put a feeder there. Then move the feeder closer and closer to the house until birds come near your house to feed.

Birds are selective about their diet. Certain foods attract certain birds. Put out common foods and you will attract common birds. Favorite foods are sunflower seeds and millet seeds. A variety of birds are fond of sunflower seeds. Sorghum seeds don’t attract very many kinds of birds, but they are better than nothing and hungry birds will come for it. Commercial bird seed will attract quite a few nice birds.

Suet attracts insect eaters like woodpeckers. Hummingbird feeders, which usually have some sort of trumpet-shaped opening, should be filled with a sugar solution.

Don’t forget that birds need water year-round. During a severe cold snap, water sources will be frozen. Having water nearby, with a way for birds to get to it, will be a prime attractant. Make sure you provide a way for the birds to get to it. Just a plain bucket is good enough if you stuff it with fine branches, so the birds can walk down those branches to get to the water. If you don’t have some way for them to get to the surface of the water conveniently, it’s not useful to them.

Our current mild winter may not make this the year of the bird feeder, but watching these feathered creatures can be fascinating just the same.

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