Welcome to Growbox Hill

Welcome to Growbox Hill
Welcome to Growbox HIll!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Feeding the birds

I see that a lot of people feed the birds. I find myself giving advice about stuff, so I figured I should note down what all I do in my yard, heh.

When we moved in, there was already a pair of large box feeders on posts in the yard outside my window- adorable in the shape of cabins. Didn't take me long to not use them. The squirrels got inside them via the cute chimneys, and the naughty birds could scatter out the whole things in a matter of hours, leaving a ton of waste seed on the ground. Eventually we will replace them with something else I guess.

So then I moved on to tube feeders. Started out with a nyjer seed feeder, and hung it in the tree outside my window- the finches liked it. Then I picked up a couple large port tube feeders- the one I hung in the tree outside my window, another in the pines on the hill. The one outside my window survived, the one in the pines got trashed- dunno if it was squirrels or coons, but I stopped trying to rehang the stupid thing there.
Picked up a hummingbird feeder- looks like a big strawberry. I haven't bothered bringing it in in the winter, and this is my third year using it. Last year I also hung a platform feeder on the pine at the bottom of the hill in hopes of keeping squirrels off the tree outside my window.
This year I got a second nyjer seed feeder, a mesh bag style one- finches seem to like it even better than the tube feeder. I also made jelly feeders for the orioles, and hung suet feeders in the pine off the dining room window.
And of course fruit spikes my love printed out for me since I spotted my first Boston Oriole- those hold apples and oranges- birds love those too, but alas, I really only keep them filled when the fruit is on sale and cheap enough that I can justify picking it up for bird food.

Soooo... First a general rule about feeders- keep them clean. This means letting them empty out between fillings. Birds can hang for a day or so between fillings. This general rule is important- stuff can build up and make feeders icky. Pouring more on top of icky is a bad idea. Bird feeders are food dishes- how much would you want to eat off one plate between washings? Birds are more tolerant, but you get the idea. This can range from having a tube brush or even a stick to poke out anything sticking behind in a feeder to washing a nectar or jelly feeder in your sink with hot soapy water. Even mesh bag feeders benefit from a washing sometimes.

Tube feeders- great for general wild bird seed, or other large seed. Attracts a variety of birds. Beware- naughty birds like grackles, doves, and blackbirds have a tendency to scatter seed a bit.
Cleaning- I use an arrow without it's head for basic cleaning- the shaft can poke stuff, the synthetic feathers as a brush. I pop off the bottoms and scrub them good with the garden hose and a bottle brush then let them bake dry in the sun to give them a good cleaning a few times a year- depending on the season and how gunky the feeder is. 

Nyjer seed feeders- sparrows and finches love these, red wing blackbirds seem to as well. I use a slotted tube feeder and a single bag fabric mesh feeder. Beware- nyjer seed is an oil seed, which means it will go rancid. And it can very quickly, a matter of several weeks to a few months of storage depending on conditions. If you fill your feeder and the birds shun it, likely your seed has turned. Be cautious where you hang your mesh feeders- they can tear if they swing and snag on a branch. The are pretty easy to sew shut again.
Note- thistle seed and nyjer seed are the same thing- and nope, not related at all to the wild thistles that grow spikey and have purple blooms- though birds tend to like thistle seed too. Almost all commercially offered thistle seed is nyjer seed. 
Cleaning- tube feeders are just like above. I find I have to seriously clean them a bit more often than regular tube feeders- nyjer seed tends to ick out more than wildbird feed. Mesh bag feeders usually just benefit by hanging empty for a while on a nice day while looking dingy- but if they start looking dirty, wash them in hot soapy water, rinse really extra well, and allow to dry fully, in the sun to bake if possible, before filling again. Do this via handwashing with dishsoap- this is a food container, not your laundry here. 

Jelly feeders- super easy to make. Just take a small jar like a sample size one, and a bamboo skewer for a perch, and wind thread or string around to attach the skewer to the jar and make a handing loop. Lots of people swear by grape jelly. I wouldn't know since we don't normally have it on hand. But I can vouch for apricot jam, lemon curd, raspberry jam, and lingonberry jam. Orioles and other sweet loving birds like these. Beware- these attract ants, and can get mucked up pretty quickly.
Cleaning- handwashing with hot dish soap and rinsing well and allowing to dry completely before use.

Fruit feeders- Several birds love these, orioles notably so. I have my love print these out, they look like little spikes with two loops on the bottom to make them easy to attach to a branch, and I use a big fake flower petal to help me find them on the tree. But the are easy to make out of a heavy gauge wire like a coathanger too. Beware- birds can eat the shit out of these, so be prepared to use fruit if you are going to start using them.
Cleaning- I find that I don't really have to- usually birds pick fruit clean leaving nothing but rind behind, and that's easy to pull off and plop the new fruit on. 

Suet feeders- suet is rendered fat, mixed with birdseed, nuts, berries... Birds love the stuff, especially in winter when high protien/fat food can be minimal. You can buy suet bricks, or make your own if you have a local butcher you can get fat scraps from to render. Beware- squirrels love it too. In the summer the suet can go rancid really fast, and when it's super hot, start melting out of the feeder. Always hang these in a shady spot to help a smidge with that.
Cleaning- usually don't really have to clean these, birds tend to pick these clean too. But sometimes they will get melty icky, or turn rancid and you gotta clean them. Into the garbage goes any clingy bits, and then handwash with hot dishsoap.

Platform feeders- these come hanging or ground style, and can attract different birds depending on their height. Good for putting out occasional baked goods (occasional only, baked goods are junk food for birds, and not very good for them), corn, peanuts, and other large foods, and can be nice for putting out bird grit. Sand is amazingly often used by birds, as are ground up eggshells, and eggshells are good in spring for calcium boosting for their own eggs. Platform feeders are also good for putting out occasional treat foods- I will cover that below in the Do Not Feed list. Beware- other critters can get into these, and hanging ones can swing about spilling food.
Cleaning- usually just a scrub with a brush or poking out with a stick. Hosing it off once in a while does not hurt either. 

Nectar feeders- hummingbirds of course love them, orioles too. Don't waste money buying nectar, make your own. Hummingbirds are a 4:1 ratio of water to sugar, orioles are a 6:1 ratio. Heat water, add sugar, dissolve, and cool. Make sure you completely cool your nectar before using. You can refrigerate the stuff too and store it for a week or so. Beware- sugarwater can mold, and ferment. And this can happen quickly in the summer. It's better to use several small feeders that need refilling often rather than a big one that can spoil. And hummingbirds are territorial, so multiple feeders usually leads to more happy birds. Ants and bees love sugarwater. Try to hang your feeders in the shade- direct sun just makes the water turn faster. Feeder emptying too fast without spillage? You might need to put up more feeders you have more hummers than you thought. Coons also LOOOVE it, and tend to feed during the night- if you are losing overnight, consider if where you hung it is coon-proof or not.
And when you get your new feeder- fill it up with water completely- then measure out that water. Take a sharpie and write on the feeder in an inconspicuous spot how many OUNCES it takes to fill. That way, you always know how much final product you need to fill the feeder. And if you have multiple feeders, it's easier to make one big batch at a time. Using ounces also makes your ratio math easier than using cups.
Cleaning- always handwash in hot dishsoap between every filling. Nectar is the most spoilable food and needs it every time.

General rules about feeding in general, lol....

Don't put out a type of food/feeder and expect only the kind of birds you are hoping for to show up. There are always other birds that join the party. For birds you want to show up, there will be birds you would rather do without.
If you are going to feed birds, be prepared to do it year round. And know what birds are seasonal birds.
Watch out for other critters- from bugs to bears, coons to chippies. And insects.
Keep your feed areas clean. Shells and scattered seed, spilled nectar and dropped fruits... in feeders is good, on the ground becomes ick.

Note through all of this I haven't spoken of natural feed, as in gardening for birds. Well, that's because I haven't done it yet successfully. I got the sanctuary going on, but as of yet, haven't grown anything specifically for them. That can be a whole nother post.
I haven't mentioned watering them either, that's because I don't. We have a large pond here, and multiple other water in the immediate area. I've had bits of water out, and they don't seem to really use them.

And let's move on to a DO NOT FEED list...

In general, do not feed birds baked goods. It's bad for them, just like junk food is bad for us. And often have a lot of stuff that's bad for birds in them. An occasional treat is fine though- I put out dried tail ends of bread or the odd bun that didn't get eaten sometimes on the platform feeder. When I do, I make sure it's dry bread- as in crispy dry- and I break it up quite a bit. And never bread gone bad- if you would not eat it, nor should you feed it to birds.
Chocolate is death to birds, much like many other animals.
Salt can be deadly for birds too.  Keep in mind that sodium is good for most animals, but there are many different kinds of sodium in food, and birds get what they need from other sources than salt. If you are thinking about putting out something with salt in it, think twice.
Onions and mushrooms are also very bad for birds. So much for thinking you might put out that onion bagel as a treat, or mushroom whatever. Avocados are bad too, so don't fruit spike those as a "green veggie alternative" to suet.
Alcohol is deadly too- No, I don't mean putting out beer for birds.. But rather, where do you think all alcohol comes from? Fermented sugars, quite often fruits and grains too. And what is pretty much all bird feed? Stuff that can ferment. If you want a non-meat alternative, try peanut butter.
NEVER put out something with meat or meat product in it. Spoils fast.. and the only birds attracted to it might be carrion birds- anything else that goes near it will likely be a different critter you don't want around.
NEVER put out dehydrated pasta or rice. This is popular to throw for celebration, but the birds eat it and waaaay not good. Because we humans have processed it to it's state is the reason for this. Birds can safely eat dried rice and grains that have dried naturally on the plant, but that be the birds choice. Cooked rice and pasta- plain without any salt in the cooking water or anything on it- can occasionally be put out in small amounts as a treat without harm.
Which begs the question... Why is there so much cracked corn in birdfeed then if dried grain stuff like rice and pasta is bad? Cracked corn is often a filler in bird food, just sayin. It's raw field corn dried and ground up. But dried rice and pasta is processed differently than cracked corn it- and that makes a difference.
POPCORN is iffy- if you have leftover air popped with nothing added to it popcorn, go ahead. If you use any salty or fat additives to it- salt is bad and fats go rancid quick. Any form of microwave popcorn is right out. Theater popcorn is iffy- though lots of birds love it for an extremely rare treat.

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