Outdoors

Make your backyard bird feeder and welcoming place

Here are tips on how to do just that

A house sparrows visit a bird feeder at a home in Walford in April. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A house sparrows visit a bird feeder at a home in Walford in April. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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A well-stocked bird feeder is a delight, especially when you are stuck in your house.

I have spent many hours watching my feeders.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy the view from inside:

FOOD

There are many kinds of bird food available.

Sunflower is the best general food. Everything likes it. There are a variety sunflower seeds available — black oil, striped and hulled. I really like hulled sunflowers, there is no mess — no pile of hulls. They come in a variety of sizes. Get one that will not fall through your feeders.

Safflower is a favorite, and it is less apt to be eaten by house sparrows. I do not feed Niger or thistle. It is a great food for finches, but goes rancid easily. White proso millet, tiny little seeds, is a great ground feed for sparrows and doves.

Lots of birds like peanuts. Get the reject peanuts, ones without shells. Do not get the red ones. Meal worms can be a great food if you feel like keeping them.

Suet is wonderful for woodpeckers, chickadees, etc. You don’t see real suet in the grocery stores anymore, but there are suet substitutes. These vary in their attractiveness to birds. You can also make your own.

There are bad bird foods, too. These do not seem to attract much and are not worth buying. You sometimes see them in mixed seeds. Among the bad seeds are corn (shelled and cracked), milo (these are the red bb-sized things in some mixed seeds that are left after the birds eat everything else), flax, rapeseed and canary seed.

WATER

Clean water is important for birds in the winter. Heated water that stays open during our cold days is worth keeping. There are a variety of bird bath heaters available.

FEEDERS

There are many kinds of bird feeders, and we have probably used them all at one time or another.

There are two things to think about when purchasing a feeder: How easy is it to put food in and can it be cleaned easily.

Platform feeders are probably my favorite because they resemble the ground. I like the kind that have holes in the bottom. This lets rain drain out.

Tube feeders are second on my list, but think about the hole size relative to your feed.

No/No feeders are very nice. They come in a variety of shapes but they have no wood and no plastic. This allows them to take a lot of abuse from squirrels and raccoons.

Sock feeders are fine for Niger feed. Hopper feeders are platforms with sections to contain more seeds. The problem with most hopper feeders is the seed easily gets wet, which is not good.

EQUIPMENT

Binoculars and cameras. It is a good idea to have them and, if you don’t have them, are worth getting.

Make sure whatever binoculars you get can focus on your feeders. If you have a camera or one on your phone, spend a bit of time learning how to get pictures of your feeders.

It is best to do this before a strange bird appears and you want help with identification.

PROTECTION

To keep birds from crashing into your windows and dying, the general recommendation is to place your feeders no closer than three feet from a window and up to 30 feet away. Most of us are not able to do this in our backyards, however.

Feeder protection also is important. Squirrels and raccoons can eat an amazing amount of food. They also can do a tremendous amount of damage to your feeders. When we finally stopped them from climbing into our feeders every night, our seed bill was cut in half. Good baffles are wonderful, because your seed still is there in the morning and your feeder is undamaged. A good wide baffle, like the one under the platform feeder, will keep them away.

We use good-sized metal trash cans on the pole. The critters climb up the inside and cannot reach the edge of the can. Squirrels can jump about four feet up to a feeder and as far as six to nine feet horizontally.

BIRD IDENTIFICATION

There are 430 species of birds identified in Iowa. Not all of them will come to your feeders.

Some things to think about when you are trying to identify a bird. Young birds can look different from adults. Males and females can look different. Winter and summer birds can look different. REFERENCE MATERIAL

l Websites — There are two that have a lot of information on birds.

The Iowa Ornithologists’ Union’s website, iowabirds.org, is worth a visit. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a wonderful site with all sorts of information at allaboutbirds.org. They have a special section, “How To Make These Next Few Weeks A Little Easier, Courtesy of Birds.”

l Field guides — If you have a feeder, you should have a field guide.

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There are many available. I personally like “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” second edition, by David Allen Sibley or the “National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America,” seventh edition, by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer.

l Apps — Sibley Birds V2, the Audubon Birds and Merlin Bird ID from Cornell are good options.

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