The Ornithology WebSite

Feeding the Birds

Oregon State University, News and Communication Services

Millions of Americans enjoy watching, feeding or photographing birds near their homes. By providing the basics - food, shelter and water - you can often attract a number of species of birds to your yard or patio. Then, if you keep a bird identification book, binoculars and a journal handy near the window, you can sit back and enjoy the show through the changing seasons, recording what you see and when you see it.

Wild birds normally rely on wild foods including seeds, fruits, nuts, insects and other invertebrates and small mammals, explained Dan Edge, wildlife specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. Some birds. including the finches and grosbeaks prefer plant foods - they feed on seeds, fruits and nuts. Others are omnivores - birds such as chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers rely on both plant and animal sources of food. Birds of prey, such as kestrels and shrikes are carnivores - they feed on other animals, including insects, other birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

People can provide food for wild birds in two ways - through supplemental feeding or by growing plants around their yard that offer fruits, seeds and habitat that birds love.

Winter is an good time to feed birds, explained Edge, because birds have only short days to find enough food to keep them warm and alive through the long, cold winter nights.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of the leading wild bird research centers in the country, recommends black oil sunflower seed as the best seed to use to attract a diverse group of birds to your feeder, including chickadees, nuthatches, finches, grosbeaks, sparrows blackbirds, jays and woodpeckers. Black oil seed is less expensive when purchased in quantity. Other seeds such as millet, rape seed and cracked corn will attract other species.

"Typically, less waste occurs if you provide only one type of food per feeder, rather than mixed bird seed," said Edge. "Birds feeding at feeders with mixed seed discard the seeds they do not want, while selecting their favorites."

Purchase seed at a local garden center. Also, local Audubon groups sell the seed as a fundraising activity. Store the seed in a tight, water proof container.

To attract insect eating birds such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches, offer suet in the wintertime. Studies have shown that these birds prefer plain, inexpensive beef suet over fancy commercial suet cakes with seed. Wire the suet to trees or place suet in mesh onion bags or wire baskets, or press them into holes in a small log.

Ground feeding birds like juncos, sparrows, towhees and mourning doves prefer cracked corn, scattered on the ground or placed on an elevated tray.

Edge offers some hints on how to be a "responsible" bird feeder:

By Carol Savonen, 541-737-3380
SOURCES: Dan Edge and John Loegering, 541-737-1953

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