Tag: birds

Different types of bird seeds

Four Seeds Birds Love to Eat

Sometimes our feathered friends need a little help making it through the harsh winter. When temperatures drop, I think about the beautiful birds that have kept my garden colorful and lively throughout the year. Their water sources may freeze up, and food may become scarce, so I make sure their birdbath is flowing — with water and not ice — and their feeders are full. If you want to feed your local birds, first you need to find out what kind of seed they prefer. If you are starting out, buy for the birds you already have, and not the ones you hope to attract. Here are the basics on a few popular seed types that you can easily find at your local garden center or grocery store.

Bird Seed Millet

Millet
This seed is a great option for ground-feeding birds. You can use a low-hanging feeder, platter, or just toss out a handful at a time — but be careful not to set out more than your birds can eat in a day. And this seed may not be a good option if you have cats. When given the choice, birds usually prefer white millet, so you will often find this in many seed mixes. Millet appeals to doves, juncos, sparrows, thrashers, buntings, Carolina wrens, cardinals and starlings.

Bird seed stripped sunflowers

Striped Sunflower
This is an inexpensive seed that, because of its tough shell, is best for larger birds with strong bills. It can also be used as a deterrent for pesky raccoons and squirrels. Place some of this seed on a plate away from your bird feeders to lure them away, and help prevent them from ransacking your feeders. Striped sunflower appeals to blue jays, cardinals, some woodpeckers and grosbeaks.

Bird seed black oiled sunflowers

Black Oil Sunflower
This is one of the most popular birdseeds, and will appeal to a wide variety of birds, especially smaller songbirds. It’s a great beginner seed to try. It is rich in oil and gives birds the energy they need to make it through the winter. The thin shells are easy to open, even for smaller birds. Black oil sunflower appeals to cardinals, nuthatches, finches, chickadees, titmice, jays, grosbeaks, sparrows and woodpeckers.

Bird seed thistle

Thistle
Thistle, also known as Nyjer seed, will drive your finches wild. It’s a tiny black seed that’s high in oil, which makes it great for winter bird feeding. Be aware, the seeds are very small and lightweight, and can easily blow away if used in the wrong type of feeder. A mesh-style or sock feeder is best for this expensive seed. Thistle appeals to goldfinches, purple finches, redpolls, pine siskins, quail and mourning doves.

Bird Migration Types

When I look to the sky and see a flock of birds in a migratory formation it inspires a peaceful, calming sensation. It’s fascinating to take a moment from whatever task is at hand, and ponder how these birds can soar for miles and miles in this perfect shape. Why do they make this tedious annual journey? How do they know when it’s time to take flight? To what lovely, warmer climate are they traveling? … And why can’t I go with them?

Simply put, birds migrate when the food and nesting resources in their habitat are exhausted, which is usually due to seasonal changes. Though it’s not completely known for sure, ornithologists believe migration is triggered by a combination of changes in the length of the day, temperatures falling, depletion of food supplies, and genetic predisposition.

Different species of birds migrate different distances ranging from just a couple of miles down the road, to across continents. Here is a break down of four basic migration types and where a few of my favorite feathered friends (these will vary slightly from region to region) fit into the formation…

Long Distance Migrants – will travel distances from Canada and the United States to Central and South America. These can include the vast majority of North American bird species such as vireos, flycatchers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, ducks, geese, swans, tanagers, Blackburnian Warblers, orioles, Arctic Terns and swallows.

Nomadic/Irregular Migrants – These birds only follow the food. When it runs out the move on, and when they find a good source they may become residents. These can include robins, blue jays, and Clark’s Nutcrackers.

Short Distance Migrants – may travel a few hundred miles or only change elevation by moving up or down a mountainside. These can include waxwings and American Tree Sparrows.

Residents – Some birds will stick out the winter where they are, or not travel but only a few miles to reach warmer temperatures. They tend to acclimate to temperature well, and eat a wider range of foods like seeds. These can include cardinals, chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, pigeons, doves and finches.

Bird migration infographic

Teacup Birdfeeder

Teacup BirdfeederThese teacup bird feeders are an excellent way to recycle old cups and saucers.  And they are both whimsical ornaments for the garden and work great as feeders.

 

Materials:
Teacup and saucer
Drill
1/8 inch ceramic tile bit
1/4 inch masonry bit
36 inch long 1/4 inch threaded metal rod
30 inch long copper tubing 1/2 inch wide
2 stainless steel nuts with 1/4 inch wide hole
2 stainless steel washers with 1/4 inch wide hole
Safety Glasses
Gloves
Marker
Birdseed

Drilling HoleDirections:
First collect your cups and saucers. A good place to look is a resale shop or junk store.

Next prepare your cup and saucer. Mark the center of each and carefully drill a hole through them one at a time. To reduce breakage and frustration, first make a starter hole with the 1/8 inch ceramic tile bit and then widen it with a 1/4 inch masonry bit.

Saucer and CupNow take the 36 inch long, 1/4 inch wide threaded metal rod and screw a nut about 1/2 inch from the top, place a washer on top of the metal nut and then the saucer and cup on top of the washer.

At this point you will have the tea cup and saucer balanced on the metal nut and washer with about 1/2 an inch or less of the threaded rod rising up through the middle of the tea cup.

Adding Copper TubingTake your second washer and slip it over the threaded rod so that it sits flat inside the teacup. Next add a metal nut on top of the washer and screw it down tightly so that the teacup and saucer are secure.

Select the area in your garden where you would like to place the feeder, push the copper tubing into the ground about 2 or 3 inches and then insert the threaded metal rod down into the ground through the copper tubing to give the feeder a finished look.

Suet Cakes for Birds

With the increased popularity in feeding birds, specialty shops have popped up to meet the demand. These stores are basically delicatessens for birds. You can’t imagine all the different foods.

For instance, there is one blend called Birdola. It’s something like a form of granola. And there are several different types of suet cakes. These are basically bird foods mixed with beef fat and other things such as almonds. One variety is actually packed with insects and another is made with papaya and orange.

Now the reason for all the mixtures is that each one offers food appealing to different kinds of birds. But I have an easy to make general recipe you can try at home and it starts with a trip to the grocery store.

To make the suet cakes follow this simple recipe:

Ingredients:
1 pound beef fat
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup corn meal
1 cup birdseed

Directions:
The key ingredient or "glue" that binds these suet cakes together is the meat fat trimmed and discarded by the butcher. Most butchers will be happy to give this to you and some will even grind it up, which makes it easier to use. Other ingredients you’ll need to pick up – corn meal, oats and some peanut butter. I like to use the extra crunchy kind and you’ll also need a small bag of birdseed of your choice.

To prepare this recipe melt one pound of beef fat over a low heat until it is in liquid form. Remove the saucepan from the stove then mix in one cup of peanut butter, one cup of rolled oats, one cup of corn meal and a cup of your favorite birdseed. Then pour the mixture into a form, any disposable container will do, and let it cool and solidify.

Once cooled fit the suet cake in a wire cage or net bag and hang it in a tree branch you can see from a window. In a few days, you should be able to see some fine feathered friends enjoying this home cooked meal.

pine cone bird feeder

Pine Cone Bird Feeder

Making a pine cone bird feeder is really simple and it’s a project that children can enjoy participating in as well.

Materials for Pine Cone Bird Feeder

  • pine cones
  • creamy peanut butter
  • yarn, ribbon or wire
  • paper plates
  • scissors
  • butter knife
  • bird seed

How to Make a Pine Cone Bird Feeder

Cut a length of yarn or ribbon to hang the ornament.

Wrap the wire or ribbon around the pine cone near the bottom so that it catches under the “petals.”

If you are using ribbon simply tie it into a knot to create a loop. With wire you can make a hook shape similar to what you see on a Christmas tree ornament. I like to use wire because it gives me a sturdy handle to hold onto while I add the peanut butter and seeds.

Next, scoop some peanut butter onto a paper plate and pour some birdseed onto a separate plate. I use a light colored seed such as safflower because the ornament will show up better on the tree. Safflower seed will attract cardinals and chickadees. But you can use standard birdseed or a mix to attract other visitors to your garden.

Now using the butter knife pack the peanut butter between the crevices of the pine cone and then sprinkle it with seed.

I find it easier to do all the peanut butter work first, wash my hands and then follow up with adding the seeds.

Once you’ve made the cones it is time to hang them on a tree. And I always like to hang them near an existing feeder. The birds just seem to be a little more comfortable in going to their new food source. And you can also place them close to a window of the house so children can enjoy watching the birds feed.

This is a good way to spruce up your garden for the holidays and help the birds. It’s also a great way for kids to learn a few lessons about nature.

How to Feed the Birds this Fall

Bird FeedingThe other day I was making an inventory of items in my tool shed and it looks like it’s time to stock up on birdseed. It is important to take care of our feathered friends through the winter when food sources become scarce.

I like to set aside one afternoon to take down all of the feeders and really wash them well. I use a cleaning solution of one part vinegar to four parts water. If getting a brush inside the feeder is difficult, I use a handful of rice to serve as an abrasive to clean the interior.

Tube feeders can be a challenge because there are so many parts to them, so I just remove whatever I can and then I use a solution of bleach and water to soak all the parts. And if you find soaking alone does not do the trick, you may have to use a little elbow grease and maybe even a toothbrush to get down into some of the tighter spots. For wooden feeders, I avoid using bleach and instead use a mild dish washing detergent and a stiff bristle brush to clean them up.

With all types of feeders it is important to rinse them thoroughly and let them dry completely before refilling them.

To attract my favorite birds I found that it helps to learn what type of seed they prefer.

For instance, your basic bag of mixed seeds includes millet, cracked corn, small sunflower seeds and milo. Now this will get the attention of jays and doves. But if you’d like to see chickadees and cardinals at your feeder, try putting out black oiled sunflower seeds. If you want to attract finches, nuthatches and siskins offer thistle seed. Now, don’t worry about thistles coming up everywhere, the seeds are generally sterilized. And here’s another idea, suet cakes. It’s a high-energy food made of animal fat and seeds that the woodpeckers just love.

With so many feeders on the market, how do you choose the best one? Well, one of the first considerations is durability, the thing has got to last. It needs to be well built, so it can withstand a fall. And it should be resistant to the weather, rust and squirrels. I also look for one that holds a lot of seed, so I don’t have to refill it so often.

Of course, you want a good-looking feeder, so style is also important. There are as many different types of bird feeders available as there are birds. I always seem to go for ones that blend into the environment. They should also be made with materials, paints and finishes that are non-toxic and bird-friendly.

I like tube feeders for a number of reasons. They don’t waste much seed and you can always tell how much food you have in them. And since they have small perches, it keeps large birds from dominating at feeding time. They are also made with smaller holes for specialty seed like thistles.

When placing my feeders, I like to put them in areas where the birds will feel safe. Close to a large shrub where they can take cover or up in the branches of a tree. And I set up several feeding stations in different areas of my garden to help disperse the bird activity. This prevents overcrowding. Periodically, I like to move my feeders around. This will reduce the concentration of droppings and possible diseases.

If you find a dead or diseased bird around your feeders, one not killed by a predator, you may want to disinfect your feeders weekly. You can do this by simply soaking them for 3 – 4 minutes in a solution of 1 part household bleach to 9 parts water.

Now, there’s another way that you can feed birds that’s particularly attractive to gardeners. Select plants for your garden that are both beautiful and produce fruits and berries that birds love to eat, like crabapples and dogwoods. And when it comes to shrubs, try something like grape hollies or roses for their beautiful bright hips in the winter.

Be sure and place your feeders and plants in places where you can enjoy watching the birds from your window. Nothing brightens a winter day like the beauty of colorful songbirds in your garden.

Build a Bluebird Box

Although wildlife habitat conservation is a national issue, there are many individual ways we can help.  Setting out bluebird boxes is one good example of how we can lend a helping hand to an animal that is finding it harder to find a home in nature. 

If you are handy with a hammer and saw you can put together this simple bluebird box.  It can be made with a single 60-inch long 1” x 6” piece of untreated lumber.

Materials:
(1) 1” x 6” that is 60-inches long
(20) 1 3/4” Nails
(2) 1 3/4” Nails for Hinged Side
Hammer
Saw
Electric Drill with a Circular Bit to Cut Out Entry
Miter Box to Cut One End of the Top and Front at a 60 Degree Angle

Template for Cutting Board:
Bluebird Box Template
Directions:
Cut the board according to the diagram above.  The corners of the bottom piece are removed for ventilation and drainage.  The entry hole should be 1 1/2-inch for Eastern and Western Bluebirds.

Ventilation is important so drill two holes at the top of one of the side pieces.

There are many ways to assemble your bluebird box, but this is what worked for me.

View of Hinged Side of Bluebird boxAttach one side piece to the back board and then secure them to the bottom.

Next hammer on the front and the top.

Now you are ready to add hinged side piece.  Fit this piece between the front board and back board and secure at the top with nails.  This will enable you to pull the board open from the bottom and reach inside to clean the box.

Side View of Bluebird BoxThe final step is to attach the entry guard piece over the hole.  This will keep woodpeckers from enlarging the hole, allowing other birds to gain access to the bluebird box.

You can paint the exterior of the box.  Use light colors so that it won’t absorb heat.  Avoid lead based paints and wood preservatives.

Putting the Pieces TogetherCorners of the Bottom Cut for VentilationHinged Side Door

Winter Bird Feeding

The white-throated sparrows have arrived in my garden; their wistful song is a sure sign that Old Man Winter is here. It is such a treat to watch all the activity around the feeder. If you have not taken up bird feeding, late fall and early winter are
great times to get started. During winter birds are in need of both food and water. The trade off for your efforts
will be a host of feathered friends bringing color and life to your garden.

Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Birds enjoying a bird feeder

Set up feeders in areas where the birds will feel safe.

Give the birds an easy escape by placing feeders near the branches of a tree or 5 to 10 feet from a large shrub. If space
allows, set up several feeding stations in different areas of your yard. This prevents overcrowding and one bird from
dominating the feeder. Periodically, move the feeders around to reduce the concentration of droppings and possible diseases.
And rake under the feeder to keep the area clean. You’ll be glad you did next spring.

Prevent window crashing disasters.

Most of us like to place feeders near windows so we can watch the birds. This sometimes leads to birds crashing into the
glass. You can prevent this by stretching a piece of fruit tree netting taut across the window. Position the netting so that
there is a few inches of space between it and the glass. Or mark up the window with a bar of soap. Simply changing the angle
of approach so that the birds are not flying toward to window also helps.

Be consistent in your feeding schedule.

For the best turn out, keep your feeders well stocked. If you need to be away it is okay to stop feeding briefly. Birds usually
have a series of feeding sites they visit daily; so they’ll have plenty to eat if yours is empty for a few weeks. The worst time
to stop feeding is late winter and early spring when natural food sources are at their lowest. If you live in an extremely
isolated area, see if you can arrange for a friend to fill your feeders in your absence.

Some birds prefer to feed on the ground.

Sparrows, juncos, doves, and bobwhites prefer to feed on the ground. Throw the seed out at least 10 feet from areas where predators
can hide and rotate the location periodically to prevent disease.

Don’t skimp on the seed.

Avoid inexpensive blends that include fillers such as milo, wheat and oats. In the long run you won’t save money because the birds
won’t eat it. Black oiled sunflower seeds are an all around favorite that appeal to a wide variety of seed eating birds. These are
high in energy supplying oil and protein. If shells and hulls under the feeder is a problem, try some of the "waste free"
seed blends. These blends are 100 percent consumable, which means less mess and feeders don’t have to be filled as often.

Store your seed properly.

Keep your bird seed in a dry spot and in a rodent proof container. Check it occasionally for mold or insects.

People food is okay; just remember birds have small mouths.

Fruit slices, raisins and breadcrumbs are tasty additions to a bird’s diet, but the pieces need to be small for easy digestion. Peanut
butter is another favorite treat; however the sticky consistency can be a problem. Mix corn meal or suet into the peanut butter to make
it more bird friendly.

A source of water is important to birds as well as food.

Birds need water to drink and to keep their feathers clean. Unfrozen water can be hard to find in winter. An submersible water heater
designed for bird baths is handy for those who live in extremely cold climates. Bird baths should be shallow with a rough surface for
the birds to stand on. Place the bath at least 4 to 5 feet away from feeders to prevent droppings and seed debris from contaminating
the water. It is also a good idea to put the bath near a low hanging branch so birds can easily escape predators. Keep the bird bath
clean and filled with water.

Continue to clean your feeders.

Even though it is cold and the last thing you will want to do is clean a bird feeder, this is an important task. Every few months wash
your feeders in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Wooden feeders should be cleaned with a mild liquid soap and brush.
Rinse the feeders thoroughly and allow them to dry before refilling.

The best way to keep squirrels away is to distract them.

Set up a squirrel feeder with dried corn to lure the squirrels away. As an added bonus large birds like crows will be drawn to the corn
as well. Another way to keep squirrels out of bird feeders is to use safflower seed. Squirrels don’t like them, but cardinals, titmice,
chickadees and downy woodpeckers do. There are also specially designed counter-balance feeders that will close when squirrels try to feed
from them.

Birdseed Ornaments

There is such a crush of holiday activities leading up to Christmas that I wanted to come up with a fresh way to invite guests over to for a seasonal celebration. So in recent years, I’ve created a new tradition of throwing a garden party in early December. When guests arrive, they get into the spirit by joining me in decorating the garden to attract local wildlife. The festive decorations we create double as edible treats.

To set a celebratory mood for the party, I do a little pre-decorating in the garden. Both guests and feathered friends are greeted at the door with a wreath decorated in dried fruit slices and berry ornaments accented with mini terra cotta pots filled with suet. I also like to wrap garlands around the entryway columns of the arbors. To save time and money I’ve found a neat little shortcut that turns inexpensive artificial garlands into something grand. I buy several long strands and then cover them with clusters of bundled live evergreens stems. Then I wire on accents of pine cones, seed heads and berried branches to give them more color and interest.

Hanging Bird Seed OrnamentsOnce guests arrive, direct them to tables with ornament-making supplies so they can begin to make the decorations. Some can start stringing cranberries and popcorn, others can tie together bundles of evergreens and berries and add loops of strings make them easy to attach to trees and shrubs. Making bread round ornaments is always a hit. I’ve found people gravitate to the activities they enjoy.

Materials:

  • pre-sliced sandwich bread
  • egg whites (or peanut butter)
  • bird seed
  • twine or raffia
  • cranberries
  • cookie cutters in simple shapes
  • ice pick

 

Gingerbread Men OrnamentsChristmas Tree OrnamentsBell Ornaments

Directions:

  1. You can use any pre-sliced sandwich bread for these ornaments, but I’ve had the best success with the extra thin slices.
  2. Simply place the bread on a flat surface and cut out your shape with a cookie cutter. Depending on the size of your cookie cutter, you will probably be able to make one ornament per slice of bread.
  3. Poke a hole through the top of the ornament with a sharp stick or ice pick.
  4. Brush one side of the bread with egg whites. This is the “glue” for your birdseeds. Sprinkle the egg white covered bread with birdseeds. I like to use a seed mix because the variety of textures and shapes makes the ornament more interesting. In addition, these mixes tend to attract some of my favorite birds such as chickadees, cardinals, finches, nuthatches and siskins.
  5. Place the seed covered ornaments on a baking sheet and bake in a pre-heated 300 degree F oven for about 5 minutes. Just long enough for the egg whites and birdseeds to adhere to the bread.
  6. Alternatively, if don’t want to bother with the egg whites and baking, you can use peanut butter to act as the glue for the seeds. If you use peanut butter, either toast the bread ornaments first, or allow them to dry over night. This just makes handling the bread easier.
  7. Take a piece of raffia or twine and string it through the hole you made at the top of the ornament. Tie a knot to create a loop.
  8. Now you are ready to hang your birdseed ornament out in the garden. I like to place these in locations where I can easily see them from indoors, but also close to shrubs and trees where birds will feel safe.

Wildlife Christmas TreeWhile the decorations are being assembled, some guests help me give an unassuming, bare-branched “Charlie Brown” tree star treatment as we adorn it in strands of cranberries, dried apple and orange slices, bread circles threaded on raffia, dried flower heads, and orange baskets, creating a veritable smorgasbord for birds. To create a holder for the tree, I wrap a bucket with burlap and fill it with wet sand and gravel. Then I gather sturdy bare branches and arrange them in the bucket, patting the sand around the base of the branches to make them nice and sturdy in the bucket. I surround the tree with a mini-forest of young cypress trees potted in simple frost proof containers. Along with decorating the tree, partygoers are encouraged to deck out every corner of the garden with fruity strands and nutty garlands, all delicious treats for birds and squirrels.

Terra Cotta Birdbath

Terra Cotta Bird BathMaterials:

  • (2) 10" Terra Cotta Pots
  • (1) 20" Terra Cotta Saucer
  • (1) Figurine, Statue, Decorative Object

Directions:
Find a location for your birdbath. Look for an area that lacks a focal point or needs something to draw the eye. I chose a bed in my garden that was planted with coleus and pink and purple globe amaranth. Although the color combination was impressive it lacked a central focus. By adding the birdbath I created a place for the eye to rest. The birdbath also helped to jazz up the composition.

You should also consider the function of your birdbath. Place it in an area where birds and other wildlife will feel safe to use it, with nearby places to perch and fly in, close to trees or shrubs.

Stacking the PotsPutting the birdbath together is simple. Place one pot upside down on the ground then set the other pot, right side up, on top of the first pot. This is the base of your birdbath.

Place the saucer on the top as the basin.

To anchor the structure, add a decorative object in the center of the saucer. This adds a touch of personality to the birdbath and keeps the saucer from tipping over. I used a clay rooster made by a friend’s daughter in art class.

Fill the saucer with water and you are done!

This project can be put together in a short time but it will have a lasting effect in your garden. And the birds will thank you for it!