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Take pleasure in the winter birds

Birds are flitting around the Matthews Festival shopping center parking lot, undeterred by the cars passing a few feet from them.

The little guys are too busy chowing down on birdseed from a couple of parking lot feeders to notice the danger.

The Carolinas are beginning to feel the nip of the north wind. Wildlife is looking for food wherever it can find it.

According to the National Bird-Feeding Society, more than 55 million people nationwide spend $3 billion per year on various bird foods and in excess of $800 million on bird-feeding accessories. In addition to helping our feathered friends, it's educational and a front-row seat into the lives of our backyard wildlife.

Backyard Wild, the store that regularly feeds the parking lot birds, is a wildlife supply company run by Jason Ford, 38, and his sister, Cari Mull, 41. In 2002, the two took over the store from their father, Roger Ford.

The elder Ford, who founded the businesses in 1996, was in the electrical business and started the store to fulfill his love of birds and wildlife. After turning the business over to the kids, he moved to Southport, where he opened another Backyard Wild store that he ran until his death last year.

"As kids, we built birdhouses with Dad and shared in his interest," said Jason. "When Dad asked us to take over the store, we didn't know if we could do as good of a job. Everyone loved Dad and was so upset when he left."

Things worked out, though. Jason says the store has thrived, with 65 percent to 75 percent of its sales from bird food.

"People who feed birds are very dedicated," he said.

Ford and Mull offered a quick primer on local birds and tips on feeding them.

"Many people think that when we see juncos (snowbirds), that means snow is on the way," said Mull. Whether the feathered prognosticators are correct or not, feeding them is as much an art as a science.

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds come in two types, black oil and striped.

Black Oil are most preferred by: cardinal, chickadee, house finch, grosbeak, nuthatch and tufted titmouse.

Striped are most preferred by: grosbeak, tufted titmouse.

Shucked Sunflower Seeds

Some small-beaked species have trouble opening sunflower seeds, so many people prefer to feed shucked sunflowers. It also does away with having those shucks all over the deck and ground.

Most preferred by: American goldfinch, nuthatch, pine siskin.

Safflower Seeds

Sometimes feeding to keep away certain species is the goal. Grackles and starlings fit this bill; they tend to be food hogs.

Most preferred by: house finch, American goldfinch, tufted titmouse.

White Millet

These are the tiny, round seeds found in most seed mixes.

Most preferred by: white-throated sparrow, junco (snowbird).

Raw Peanuts

Blue jays, tufted titmouse and woodpeckers like this. Squirrels love this option, too.

Most preferred by: blue jay, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, woodpeckers.

Fresh/Dried Fruit

Buy in small quantities, as this will go bad and need to be replaced often. Serve in a special feeder or on a flat plate.

Most preferred by: bluebird, northern oriole (renamed from Baltimore oriole in the mid-1980s).


Thistle resembles small grains of wild rice and is highly desirable to many finches for its high fat and protein content. Nyjer is another name for thistle.

Most preferred by: American goldfinches, house finches, doves, indigo bunting, pine siskin.


This is a high-energy food for birds, especially in winter and spring during breeding. Buy suet that does not have any fillers, such as millet or wheat. Choose flavors like peanut butter, blueberry and even hot pepper. The squirrels don't like anything with hot pepper in it.

Most preferred by: nuthatch, woodpecker, Carolina wren, pine warbler.


These are not "worms" but larvae of the darkling beetle and are the No. 1 food for bluebirds. Feed them away from your other feeders as bluebirds prefer to be by themselves. Some people fix a cup on top of their blue bird houses to feed the mealworms.

Most preferred by: bluebird, pine warbler.

Sugar Water

Hummingbirds will exclusively feed on sugar water. In recent years the Charlotte region has seen the rufous hummingbird winter here. Be sure to bring the feeder in at night when the weather freezes and put it out during the day so it stays liquid.

Most preferred by: Hummingbird.


Make sure your birds have a source of water. It can be anything from a decorative garden birdbath to a clay pot saucer. The main element is that the container must be shallow.

For those who are not feeding purists, a birdseed mix makes it easy to attract an interesting group of birds. Ford reminds us that whichever food we choose, storage is an important consideration.

"Freshness makes a difference. Throw out uneaten seed from the feeder after a month or so," he said.

One last variable in feeding birds is squirrels. When it comes to this Tanimal there are no shades of gray. People either hate them or love them.

"There are good squirrel-proof feeders. And if you put a baffle on the feeder and pole and position it 10 feet away from anything that a squirrel could jump from, it can be effective," said Ford. "They love everything the birds like. Either way, we love squirrels. They're good for business."