By Dave Shiley
The holiday season is upon us and like many central Illinois residents; you may be shopping for that special person on your list, frantically going from one store to another. It is similar to what birds do every day as they visit one food patch, then another and another, looking for food.
Since this time of year also often brings snow and ice, these wintery conditions can cause challenges for songbirds to find food. A bird feeder can provide supplemental food resources for your local songbird population during these harsh winter conditions.
If you don’t have a bird feeding station in your backyard, but are interested in getting into this popular hobby, a little planning and consideration of bird feeding habits can make your backyard habitat more successful. First, let’s consider the birds’ needs.
Try to put the feeder in a location that is protected from winter winds. If you are placing your feeder on a pole it should be 5 to 6 feet from the ground. There are some bird species, such as doves, which feed on the ground, so you might want to install a ground platform feeder to meet their needs.
In addition to protection from the cold winter winds, birds need protection from predators that may be attracted to your feeder, but not for the seed. So, position your feeder within five feet of some type of cover such as trees or shrubs for escape from predators. Birds will also use these areas for loafing between meals.
If a hawk begins targeting your feeder, keep two things in mind. First, they are protected by state and federal laws and it is just part of the natural cycle of life. Secondly, the escape cover in your yard will provide protection for most of the birds visiting your feeder. If this situation is especially troublesome, simply remove the feeder from your yard for a few days and the hawk will likely move on to greener pastures.
The type of seed is another important consideration. There are many premixed bird seed sources for you to buy, but what is in the mix will have an effect on how much is actually consumed. Some birdseed mixes contain seeds such as milo, wheat, oats and rice, which are unattractive to most birds, and most of these seeds will end up on the ground. Doves will consume some of these types of seed, but some you can consider waste.
One way to avoid waste seed is to make your own mixture. A combination of white proso millet and black oil-type sunflower seed will give you the most for your bird feeding dollar, because these seed types are preferred by many types of birds, and you won’t be paying for waste seed.
Finally, you should keep your bird feeder clean. Once a week remove moldy seed and fecal matter and if you continue to feed birds in the warmer months of the year, disinfect your feeder at cleaning time with a weak bleach solution.