This winter is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in terms of potential feeder birds. So I thought it might be helpful to talk a bit about how you can maximize your chances of attracting some unusual birds.
The best way to attract a diversity of bird species is to offer a diversity of food options. Knowing what foods will attract what species can help you get the most enjoyment out of your feeding operation. Yards with lots of feeding activity attract even more birds. Birds attract birds.
There are lots of seed and seed-mix options out there. These are based on my own experience; some of you may differ in your opinion.
• Nothing performs as well as black oil sunflower seed. Use it to fill tube feeders, platform feeders, hoppers, or as a spread on the ground. The rare finches will go for it, and it should be the main staple in your station.
• Safflower can be an attractive offering, but birds seem to have to acquire a taste for it. If other seeds are offered too, the safflower will often go last.
• Millet is popular with ground-feeding birds like sparrows and doves. I spread it exclusively on the ground under my hanging feeders. Using millet to fill tube feeders or hoppers is not nearly as effective as spreading it on the ground.
A high-quality seed mix will have a high percentage of millet and sunflower seed.
Beware of “wild bird mixes” that have a high percentage of milo, cracked corn and wheat. Unfortunately the cheaper mixes have lots of these seeds in their makeup.
I recommend purchasing mixes in a clear bag that allow you to assess the makeup of the contents. Go online and view pictures of milo, millet, safflower and others if you are unsure of what they look like. Consumers should check the package.
There are plenty of species that do not eat seed at all but will readily visit a feeder with other offerings.
Suet and jelly
Northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, ruby-crowned kinglets, pine warblers and yellow-rumped warblers love suet or suet dough.
And while woodpeckers like sunflower seed too, they really prefer the suets or doughs. There are lots of varieties. I go with the peanut suet dough. If your birds are like mine, you will need to stock up. You will also increase your chances of attracting a rare warbler or tanager with dough, too.
Try providing some fresh fruit or jelly for orioles, mockingbirds, thrashers, or maybe even a wintering gray catbird. For jelly, nailing or otherwise attaching a jar top to a surface serves as a nice “plate.” Place fruit on a platform feeder or nail an orange to a tree.
Offer some water
Don’t forget to provide water. All birds need water and they will appreciate it in your yard. When natural water is tied up as ice during a winter storm, liquid water is a lifesaver for some birds.
Heated bird baths are superior and popular with the birds but can be pricey. I have seen some inserts that can keep the water from freezing. Decide for yourself which way to go.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont.
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