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Looking Out For Our Feathered-Friends
By Kathleen Franklin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The birds in our area certainly haven’t suffered this winter, what with record high temperatures and ample rainfall. Here are ways to encourage avian diversity in your backyard even in winter.
First, clean feeders and birdhouses. Birdseed – particularly seed left at the bottom of tube and tray feeders – gets moldy. The best cleaning method is a solution of 50 percent HOT water and 50 percent white vinegar. Let the feeder dry completely before refilling. Same goes for unoccupied bird houses. Purge leftover nesting materials from last spring and summer, unless you spot evidence of active nest-building.
Second, place feeders at least eight feet from your house if you want to see shyer birds, such as Carolina wren, black-capped chickadee, nuthatch, tufted titmouse, or – if you’re really lucky – Eastern bluebird. Use feeders that have squirrel-deterring mechanisms, and make sure the feeder is near an evergreen shrub or tree to provide some shelter.
Third, buy good birdseed. Most seed at hardware and grocery stores is “junk food” for birds. It’s cheap, but it’s full of fillers that don’t provide much nourishment and create an unholy mess under your feeders. These low-end seeds often produce unwanted weeds in your lawn and garden once they drop from the feeder or work their way through birds’ digestive systems. Opt instead for “cleaner” seed varieties, such as sunflower hearts, which won’t leave shells everywhere. These seeds – irradiated to prevent sprouting – are well worth the extra cost at stores that cater to bird enthusiasts.
Plus, cheaper seed (often packaged as “mixed” or “songbird” seed) is a feast for sparrows, which are notorious feeder hogs. Sparrows are non-native invasive birds and are not protected under the migratory bird laws. They take over nests of native cavity-nesters and chase them away from feeders.
The more varied your seed and feeder types, the more variety of birds you’ll see. Suet feeders, for example, attract woodpeckers and sapsuckers. Niger (thistle) seed attracts finches. Robins, bluebirds, and cardinals love raisins. Orioles love grape jelly and other fruity snacks. Nuthatches like mealworms, available at birdseed stores. Most birds also like salt, so leave out a salt block. Plant a variety of fruit/berry-bearing trees and shrubs (away from sidewalks and paths to reduce mess) to attract even more birds.
Don’t forget water. Birdbaths should be no more than three inches deep and have rough edges to help birds maintain traction while drinking (plastic and glass are too slippery.) Never use chemicals to clean birdbaths; scrub out regularly with just a touch of bleach. In summer, drop in a “Mosquito Dunk” (a commercially available organic repellent) to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the water.
Next week: Tips on Caring for Jade Plants
© 2006 – Kathleen Franklin, All Rights Reserved. Kathleen is a county-certified Master Gardener and a longtime employee of a local garden nursery. To ask a question or to schedule a garden consultation, contact email@example.com