September Project: How to Attract Nonmigratory Birds - Part I

In much of North America, winter is a challenging time for birds. Days are often windy and cold; nights are long and even colder. Finding food can be especially challenging for birds during days with extreme cold temperatures. Setting up a backyard bird feeder makes their lives easier and ours more enjoyable. To watch birds in your backyard, you don't need to bundle up and head outside. You can sit in the warmth inside and still achieve the benefit of birds visiting your yard. To observe birds at your backyard feeder, you don’t need to brave the elements—you can simply watch the show from the comfort of your own home.

During the spring and summer months, the diet of most songbirds is composed mainly of insects and spiders. These creatures are highly nutritious, abundant, and, for the most part, easily captured. During fall and winter, however, nonmigratory songbirds must shift their diets to fruits and seeds to survive. The shelves of many supermarkets and specialty bird-feeding stores are stocked with bags, buckets, and cakes of many food types. The selection process can be overwhelming. First, you want to make sure you can attract birds with a variety of different foods this Fall and Winter. That will ensure you get a variety of birds to frequent your yard.

You'll have a lot of success attracting many different species of birds with black-oil sunflower seeds. These seeds have a high meat-to-shell ratio. They're also nutritious and high in fat. Smaller birds can handle these seeds because they're smaller in size and have a thin shell. (Striped sunflower seeds are larger and have a thicker seed coat.) Some studies show that this high-energy food is the flock-pleasing favorite of the majority of birds that visit feeders. In fact, it is often wasteful to fill a feeder with a standard mix since your visitors may eat the prized sunflower seeds and leave the rest.

Birds’ feeding habits may vary based on weather patterns, geographic region, season, and even individual taste. You may find a few exceptions to these guidelines. The following is information regarding specific bird food.

  • Corn refers to dried, whole-kernel corn, a favorite food for jays, pigeons, doves, quail, and pheasants. It is perhaps the least expensive of all birdseeds. Cracked corn, however, is easier to eat for blackbirds, finches, and sparrows. 
  • Millet comes in red and white varieties, but most birds prefer white proso millet over red.
  • Nijer or thistle seed, is a delicacy for small finches such as goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls. Because nijer seeds are small and expensive, it’s best to offer them in a special nijer feeder, which has tiny ports that prevent the seeds from spilling out.
  • Safflower is another seed that many birds like—most notably, cardinals. As an added bonus, it has limited appeal to starlings and House Sparrows (non-native species), and squirrels.
  • Peanuts are another readily available food that many backyard birds will eat. While sunflower seeds are favored by most feeder birds, some birds do prefer other seeds. For example, blackbirds like corn, and doves prefer corn, milo, and millet.

You should even conduct your own experiments. Areas vary according to what the birds prefer, so maybe try different offerings to attract the nonmigratory birds.

This is simply the first installment, but visit Hardware for more information about how you can attract those nonmigratory birds to your yard. Leading up to those colder months, we'll have a short how-to series on winter birding.   

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