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Bird Feeding FAQ
Answers to some Frequently Asked Questions about attracting and feeding birds.

1. Why do the birds throw so much seed on the ground?
2. How do I attract (insert your favorite bird) to my yard?
3. How do I keep squirrels out of my feeders?
4. What can I do about jays hogging my feeder?  (Or crows?)
5.
How can I keep woodpeckers from eating my wooden house? 
6. Is it OK to feed bread or other baked goods to birds?
7. How do I keep my seed dry when it rains?
8. Can I feed birds without the mess?

  Question:  Why do the birds throw so much seed on the ground?
  Answer:  Probably you are feeding mixed seed where you should be feeding just black-oil sunflower seed.  Generally speaking (and remember that the birds don't read these generalizations, so there may be exceptions) the birds that feed from perches - such as hanging feeders - tend to prefer sunflower seed.  And the birds that feed on the ground - or on platform or gazebo feeders - tend to prefer millet or cracked corn which are the main components of quality seed mixes.  If a finch lands on a feeder with mixed seed in it, he will pick out all of the sunflower seeds that are on top, then brush away all of the "junk" that's in the way, then pick out all of the sunflower seeds, then brush away the 'junk" again, etc.  If you are feeding mixed seed in a hanging feeder, switch to sunflower and try it out.  I bet you will be happy with the results.
    If you are not feeding a mixed seed, then you should consider the possibility that your seed is old and is going bad. Seed is a natural product. It is grown during its season and harvested like other crops. Then it must be stored until time to use it. Storage conditions vary from supplier to supplier and as the year progresses the quality of seed naturally decreases. By late summer the seed is a year old and we're all eagerly waiting for the new seed to come in. After the new crop starts coming in, the year old seed is sold to discounters who package it up and sell it in cheapo chain stores. The birds know the difference between good seed and bad seed. They pick up and weigh each seed before eating it. They also taste it. They know if it is moldy or if the oils in it have become rancid and such seeds get cast aside. Feed them good quality seed and this will not happen as much. (Even the best seed is going to have the occasional empty shell or shrunken kernel.)
    Finally, whole seeds such as sunflower, niger (thistle), peanuts, millet, etc., have hulls on them. The hulls are inedible and so the birds shuck out the kernel and discard the hull. If you feed a lot of birds, you will see a lot of hulls building up on the ground below the feeder. If you do not wish to see these hulls, you can feed seeds which have already had the hulls removed. Sunflower and millet are available stripped of their hulls. Niger is not (that I know of.) Peanuts are certainly available shelled, but be careful when you buy them - get dry roasted, unsalted peanuts. While hulled seeds are certainly more expensive than whole seed, you must remember that you are not paying for the hulls. Unfortunately, niger seed is not available hulled and so the hulls will accumulate beneath the feeder, necessitating an occasional cleanup. We hang our front-yard feeders from a trees which has shrubs just beyond the drip-line. This gives some cover for the birds in case they get spooked, and the shrubs tend to hide the mess below the feeders.

  Question:  How do I attract (insert your favorite bird) to my yard?
  Answer:  Think habitat.  Learn about the habitat requirements of the birds you wish to attract and supply them.  That can be as simple as putting out a feeder or some water, or you can go all the way and change your landscaping entirely.   Birds, like any animal, need food, water and shelter.  Go look at the Habitat Page for more information on providing adequate habitat for birds.
   Providing feeders full of food is certainly the simplest way to attract birds to your yard and is usually very effective.  Below is a chart of some birds of western North America and what you can feed them.  Many of these birds (or their counterparts) are in the eastern US, but I don't have any direct experience feeding birds back east and I prefer to speak from my own experience.

Bird Favorite Foods
Chickadee Sunflower,Suet
Nuthatch Sunflower,Suet
Goldfinch Cracked-Sunflower,Thistle
Pine_Siskins Cracked-Sunflower,Thistle
Red-winged Blackbird Sunflower,Millet
Woodpeckers,Flickers Suet,Sunflower
Finches,Grosbeaks Sunflower
Sparrows,Juncos Millet,Cracked-Corn
Jays Sunflower,Corn,Peanuts
Varied_Thrush (winter) Millet,Cracked-Corn,Berries
Hummingbird Sugar/Water Nectar
Great Blue Herons Koi (prefering the expensive ones.)

  Question:   How do I keep squirrels out of my feeders?
  Answer:  Generally, the best plan is to make the bird feeder difficult to access and then put out some good squirrel munchies somewhere else for them.   Placing a squirrel baffle above a hanging feeder or below a post-mounted feeder will discourage most squirrels, but if you have Gray Squirrels, you have a real challenge on your hands.   A whole book has been written called Outwitting Squirrels.

  Question: What can I do about jays hogging my feeder?  (Or crows?)
  Answer:  These are very smart birds and if they really want to eat from your feeders they will probably figure out a way.  The trick is to use their smarts against them.  Jays are good at making comparative judgments.  They like to figure out which seed is "best" and eat it or go hide it.  If you feed them something that they like better than your "regular birdseed" they will stay away from your feeders.  So what is that magic seed?  Peanuts in the shell.  I have put my jays on a schedule.  Every morning I throw out a coffee cup full of roasted peanuts in the shell and whistle.  Make sure you use unsalted peanuts and roasted, not raw.  When the jays hear my whistle they come zooming in to get them.  Usually 5-8 jays will be in the trees and the dominant bird will come down on the deck and pick through the peanuts, weighing and evaluating each one until he decides which is the best and he flies off with it.  Then the others come down - one or two at a time and do the same.  Eventually they have taken all of the peanuts from my deck.  At that point they decide that the "best" food in the place is gone and they leave.  I sometimes see one jay poking around at the seed on the ground once or twice during the day, but almost never do the jays hang around after the peanuts are gone.
  It also helps to make your feeders more unfriendly to big birds.  Cutting off the perches to 3/4" long is the easiest way to do this.  You can also buy feeders with 1" wire mesh around them so the little birds can feed but the big ones can't get in.

QuestionHow can I keep woodpeckers from eating my wooden house?
Answer:  Vinyl siding!  :-)
   Seriously, woodpeckers don't eat wood.  There are three reasons that they might be pecking on your house.  Either they are drumming to declare their territory, making a hole for a nest, or harvesting termites or other bugs.  Are they just making noise, and lots of it and really loud?  That would be drumming.  They typically like something really resonant to drum on.  I've also heard of them drumming on metal stovepipes and gutters if the resonance is right.  A piece of hard, dry wood oriented vertically and nailed at the bottom only might give them something more attractive to drum on.  You should probably roughen it so they have something to grip.  You may have to put it under an eve or something to keep it dry.
   If they are making one round hole in the siding, they are making a nest.  You may have to put up a woodpecker nest box nearby and cover over the hole they've been making in the house.  You could even mount the nest box right over the hole.  If they've already completed the hole and laid eggs you might as well let them hatch and fledge because they won't be doing any more damage.  After a few weeks they will leave the nest and then you can go cover it.
   If they are making lots of small holes in your siding or breaking off loose shakes, then the woodpecker probably isn't the real problem, it is just an indicator.  Woodpeckers eat bugs and prefer termites, bark beetle larvae, carpenter bees and so on.  They are experts at finding them.  If they have found them in your house you need to get the real problem taken care of and the birds will go somewhere else.  In this case you should probably thank them for notifying you of this problem.

QuestionIs it OK to feed bread or other baked goods to birds?
Answer:  It is OK to feed small quantities of bread to the birds occasionally, but most breads or other baked goods do not contain enough nutrients to constitute a balanced diet.  If bread is abundant, the birds may eat it to the exclusion of other, more nutritious food and that would be bad for them.  So go ahead, but keep it to a minimum and try not to do it on a predictable schedule.

QuestionHow do I keep my seed dry when it rains?
AnswerThere are three ways do keep your seed dry:

  1. Hang your feeder under an eave of your roof or some other cover, preferably on the leeward (protected from the wind) side.  This works particularly well in areas of strong winds like our coast.

  2. Use an "umbrella": hang your feeder under a squirrel baffle.

  3. Use a feeder which is designed to keep out the weather.  We sell a very good one which you can see here.  There are others on the market, too.  Check your local bird feeding supplies store.

QuestionCan I feed birds without the mess?
AnswerTwo kinds of mess build up beneath your feeders, seed hulls and bird "droppings."  (AKA guano, poop, etc.)  You can eliminate the seed hulls by feeding sunflower hearts.  These may also be called sunflower chips, hulled sunflower or cracked sunflower.  Basically, they are the "meat" of the seed without the shells.  They come in different sizes, which might or might not matter, depending on the type of feeder you are using.  Since the shells have already been removed from the seed, there is very little debris for the birds to toss aside.  You pay more per pound for sunflower hearts, but remember that you are not paying for the shells.  On a seed-meat for seed-meat comparison, sunflower hearts are usually just a few percent more expensive than whole sunflower seed. 
    It is also possible to get hulled millet, and peanuts.
    The bird droppings cannot be prevented.  If you're going to feed them, they're going to poop.  It's best to put your feeder where this will cause no harm.  My last house was on sand and the lawn grew poorly - except under the bird feeder where it was full and lush.  You might think about that when placing your feeder.  The guano is very rich in nitrogen.  Make sure the plants below it will be happy with all that fertilizer, or put it where you can occasionally remove the droppings and spread them on your plants or mix it into your compost pile.


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