Responsible Bird Feeding


Feeding birds is one of Canada’s favourite hobbies. The enjoyment of watching an array of colourful songbirds from the comfort of a kitchen window is irresistible to some. What makes this pastime so popular? The opportunity to bring the joys of the natural world close to home can be a powerful attraction. The sight of a vibrant Northern Cardinal on a bleak February day is another answer. Most people just like birds and are happier when they’re around. A high quality, no-waste seed mix is by far the easiest way to attract birds.

Let’s cover some of the basic food preferences of our local birds. First of all, offering stale bread, doughnuts and cereal is usually not a good idea. There is a high likelihood of these products getting moldy and damp and they are also highly attractive to the less desirable wildlife in the area. Crows, starlings, grackles, raccoons, rats and skunks will all take advantage of a free supply of baked goods and table scraps. These items are all better off in your compost pile.

Black oil sunflower seed is the best all-around food for attracting the greatest number of desirable birds. It is an oily, energy-rich seed that will be eaten by virtually every type of feeder bird. It is especially a favourite of cardinals. A seed mix blended specifically for cardinals will typically consist of a tempting combination of sunflower and safflower seeds. Safflower seed is a white, shiny, conical seed that has gained popularity among people who find that cardinals and house finches love it, but that squirrels, grackles and starlings are not attracted to it.

Peanuts can be magnets for backyard birds such as blue jays, nuthatches and chickadees. They are a great high-protein boost to winter-weary birds, and are eagerly accepted by insect-eating birds like woodpeckers and Carolina wrens. Use a seed blend including peanuts for a sure-fire way to attract the above-mentioned birds to your feeders.

White millet can be an effective ingredient in wild bird mixes, as it is well liked by juncos, mourning doves and migrating species such as white-crowned sparrows and white-throated sparrows. Caution is needed though because indiscriminate use of millet, cracked corn and bread scraps can build up excessive populations of house sparrows and attract local concentrations of cowbirds if offered in the summer.

Speaking of cracked corn – does it have any value as a food source for wild birds, or is it merely used as filler? Yes and yes. First, a distinction must be made between cracked corn and cut corn. Cracked corn is basically crushed at any stage of drying, resulting in small bits of corn and lots of powder. All that powdered mess has little nutritional value and could therefore be considered just filler since no birds will benefit from it. Steel-cut corn has been cut or sliced when completely dry. This process results in good size chunks of corn, which maintain decent carbohydrate value. Blue jays, mourning doves, sparrows and even cardinals can benefit from this energy source especially in winter.

Feeding birds involves a measure of responsibility on the homeowners’ part. If you have trouble attracting birds at first, be patient. Once you do attract birds, be consistent. A feeder that regularly runs empty will see fewer guests at the table. Keeping feeders clean and near a source of cover are also important considerations for the birds’ welfare.

While food put out in feeders makes life much easier for birds in winter, and is a valuable contribution to their survival in harsh weather, no bird relies entirely on one source of food. In natural circumstances, birds have to adapt to changing food sources and their survival depends on quickly finding new supplies. So, if you have to leave home for a time and let the feeders run dry - don’t worry. The birds will return, and, if given a safe and regular food supply, will reward you with a mutually satisfying relationship.

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