Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Watching birds is national pastime

There is still time to gift someone a bird feeder, seed and a shepherd's hook or other mounting system, especially if the recipient is home-bound or in a nursing home. Of course, that is, if an available window for such an idea is at ground level or in a common room, and if at a facility, permission is given. My wife, a close friend, and I visit Hillcrest Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center monthly and I never tire of seeing the bird feeders placed outside two first-floor windows. In this case, it is probably best to offer a quality mixed seed, as the lower-priced seed has a lot of filler that most birds won't eat. They are fussy.

Feeding wild birds must run close behind baseball as a national pastime; nearly everywhere we look, wild bird food is offered for sale and bird feeders are swaying in the wind. Annually, 60 million Americans spend more than $2 billion luring songbirds to our yards. And just why we are so preoccupied is not fully understood.

Many of us assume that we owe "Mother Nature" a little help now and then, or that many birds would die without our benevolence. The truth is that we like birds, and we are happier with them around. And in this case, we are feeding the wild birds first for someone we love, and second for the sake of the birds. Under most weather conditions, except ice storms or the foulest of weather, most wild birds get along quite well without our assistance, although studies suggest a lower mortality rate during prolonged low temperatures in areas with bird feeders. By feeding birds, when the days are short and energy requirements are high, we do make their lives a bit easier though, while having our own spirits lifted. Feeding birds is fun.


Feeders come in different shapes and sizes and different foods can attract different birds.               

Tubular finch feeders designed to accommodate the goldfinch, common redpoll and the pine siskin by dispensing niger (thistle) seed have very small ports that may either be reinforced with metal or not. Both stand up well as squirrels are not interested in this kind of seed.

Tubular feeders designed to dispense sunflower seed, should be constructed of thick, hard plastic with metal feeder ports (to discourage squirrel gnawing). When filled with sunflower seed — preferably black oil seed — many kinds of birds may be attracted. These include the black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, American goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatch, pine siskin, house finch, purple finch, blue jay, northern cardinal and more. Safflower seed is now being marketed for wild birds with claims that squirrels ignore it. Titmice, chickadees and the northern cardinal readily accept it. Tube feeders can be hung from a support, a branch or mounted on a post.

Hopper feeders are platform feeders with an added improvement, they keep larger quantities of seed available to the birds, and most important, the seed stored within the hopper remains dry and clean. When purchasing this type of feeder, look for one of a sturdy design. The hopper feeder is an ideal dispenser for sunflower seeds, safflower seed or a mix.

If you want to get close and personal with the birds, investigate a small clear plastic feeder with suction cups that fasten it directly to your window pane. When filled with black-oil seed, chickadees quickly find it. Another up-and-close style feeder is a window feeder that has one-way glass, allowing one to view the birds as they eat without their seeing the viewer. These are especially good for families with small children, but usually only offered at specialty shops, such as Wild Bird Country Store, 783 Main St., Great Barrington; across the street from Wards Nursery that also carries a good assortment of feeders. Of course,there are many on-line sources as close as your laptop.

In addition to offering seed, provide suet from the super market meat counter or manufactured suet cakes. The advantage to offering birds manufactured suet cakes is that processing or rendering makes them far less prone to getting rancid. The white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches, an occasional Carolina wren, in addition to brown creepers, starlings, crows, downy woodpecker and hairy woodpecker will take advantage of suet feeders. The red-bellied woodpecker and Carolina wren are also becoming more frequent at local feeding stations and will also eat suet.


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