What to Do In the Garden – January

red-bellied woodpecker on bird feeder

Feed the Birds? Plenty of options including not feeding them and still getting your bird fix!

A very pleasant way to pass the winter is to put out a couple of bird feeders and watch the show. There is unlimited pleasure in watching birds during the cold months, when the lively side of nature tends to recede from view.

But, a lot of folks have concerns about feeders, so caveats aside for now, let’s talk feeding the birds!

Luring birds to your yard with yummy treats is a great way to get them to show themselves, so the landscape is not so barren. Feeders attract so many varieties! The show is ever-changing and the reward is a rich experience with nature.

Types of food to try: a seed/fruit mix – in my opinion works to appeal to most types of birds. Suet attracts the big and small woodpeckers, starlings, and grackles. Try using suet that has been spiced with hot peppers or sauce, to keep the greedy squirrels at bay.

If you have a clan of blue jays close by, you can attract them easily by tossing a few hands full of unsalted peanuts, either shelled or in the shell about the same time each day. Their happy shrieks upon finding such bounty will put a smile on your face every time. Crows and other species like nuthatches will also be attracted to the free food. And, of course, the squirrels.

squirrel perched on feeder

Speaking of squirrels – now for the minuses: bird feeding issues that make themselves very obvious within the first couple of days: the ever clever and persistent squirrels. My belief is, if you put food out for nature, all are welcome, squirrels included; it’s just that some critters play dirty…the following strategy will save the day!

The best fair-play tool I have found is a good squirrel-resistant feeder. The birds can feed easily, but the weight of the squirrel closes the hopper, and now the squirrel has no choice but to politely snack at ground level instead of greedily emptying the thing in one go. I also have found that a hook arm for the feeder of about 18” keeps squirrels from performing their acrobatics in comfort, therefore preventing it from getting a good position for a lengthy feed, so back to the ground they go.

Ultimately there are so many choices for feeders and food, including the make-your-own kinds – the fun choice is to try things and see!

Another issue may be visits of the more ominous vermin kind. Mice, voles, and rabbits may make a visit now and then, but I know of a few folks skittish about attracting rats. You can successfully proceed if you are willing to try different things:

• Use a baffle to prevent critters from climbing up the pole. A metal pole is also a good choice – it is difficult to climb.
• Use no-waste bird seed – the shells have been removed, so there is nothing left behind, and if you ever watched an active feeder, birds/squirrels will eat everything on the ground, so there will be little for nocturnal visitors. Also, pace your food amount so there are no leftovers at the end of the day.
• Time the filling your feeder for morning, so that most of the seed is gone by evening.
• That hot pepper bird seed really works! Birds cannot taste the heat, but mammals sure can!
• A squirrel-proof feeder also works on rats!
• If you use a deck-mounted feeder or have one in a tree, remove them at night. Rats can access them pretty easily. It’s a little more work, but do-able.

Finally, if you find that feeding the birds sounds lovely, but you do not have a good space or the time for the task, consider visiting the Cornell Feeder Cams online. There are a couple of choices that are available for watching year-round, and are so delightful to follow.

Visit https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/cornell-lab-feederwatch/ for their very active feeder cams.

“The presence of a single bird can change everything for one who appreciates them.” -Julie Zickefoose

Caroline Poppendeck, Librarian
Steele Memorial Library