Thursday, February 3, 2011

Birdwatching and Feeding

photos by L. Ross

If you enjoy wildlife but have never been a birdwatcher, you have missed a treat. The antics of birds competing for food at feeders can be very entertaining. The timid Titmouse and Chickadees dart in to the feeder, steal a seed and fly to a nearby branch where they hold the seed under their foot and peck it to get the tender heart.

Finches and Cardinals have stronger beaks and remain on the feeders for extended periods as they turn black oil sunflower seeds (the most versatile bird food) expertly in their beak. They rotate the seed, crack the edges to get to the heart, drop the husk and never miss a beat.

Nuthatches and woodpeckers are clinging birds and will often hang upside down on feeders and suet cakes as they feed.

Bluejays are the bullies of the bird community. When they glide into the feeders, the other birds scatter and allow them to gulp the seeds whole. It usually doesn’t take them long to fill up and depart.

Doves and squirrels perform clean-up services by eating seeds that fall to the ground. Squirrels are fun to watch, but if they access your feeders, they will waste seed and damage the feeders. You will need to place feeders where squirrels cannot leap from nearby tree limbs or rooftops to access them. Also, place guards on poles to keep them from climbing to the feeders.

A combination of tube feeders, platform feeders and suet will attract the largest selection of species. Smaller birds such as finches, Titmouse, and Chickadees prefer tube feeders. Cardinals and other larger birds will eat from them, but prefer platform feeders. You can construct one easily by building a wooden frame with a screen for a bottom. A roof is a good addition to give the birds some security from hawks, and it will keep rain out.

Most birds like suet, but the clinging birds such as woodpeckers and nuthatches flock to suet cakes. Cold weather requires a lot of energy for keeping their bodies warm. Fat in the suet is important for these species. Food becomes more scarce for birds as winter begins and feeders are a good supplement. They are well worth the time and expense and will repay you by entertaining you through the long winter days.

If you own property with timber, consider leaving dead snags in your timber stand. Many animal species use dead snags for shelter. Woodpeckers drill holes in dead trees for nesting and shelter as well as searching for beetles and other insects. Other species of birds, squirrels, bats, owls and kestrels often take over cavities in dead trees for nesting.

SCDNR recommends leaving four or five snags per acre. They may be unsightly to some, but they will be a boon to wildlife.

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