Eating like a Bird: Today's design for bird feeders offers seed of change

2012-11-29T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T00:16:07Z Eating like a Bird: Today's design for bird feeders offers seed of changeBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Tia Wilks, owner of Jake's Feed and Garden, doesn't believe the expression "bird-brain" is very accurate.

"Birds are very smart, especially when it comes to what they want to eat," said Wilks, whose late father Jake Blastick opened the store she now runs back in 1990.

Wilks also seeks to educate customers about the importance of quality bird seed and selecting just the right bird feeder design fo yard.

"Milo is the primary filler used in so many bird seeds sold," she said.

"It's what the birds mostly scatter on the ground. And now that corn and sunflower seeds are so much more expensive this season, these fillers are often added more and more."

Wilks emphasizes that all of the seed mixes sold at her store are custom created and do not contain wasted fillers.

In the past two decades, Wilks said she's amazed at how many more options there are now for bird feeder designs.

"Years ago, it used to be there were two options," she said.

"Bird feeders that were decorative and those that were practical and functional. Now, there are so many more, including many designed to attracted the desired bird of choice."

Wilks has also discovered today's bird feeding enthusiasts are more informed and educated about birds and preferences, compared to the "casual birdseed buyer" of the past.

"It's much easier to make feeding and caring for birds a hobby because there are so many options," Wilks said.

"The new bird feeder designs now not only created to even be squirrel-proof, but also so much easier to clean. It used to be that cleaning a traditional tube bird feeder was so much trouble and long handle special brush was required. Today, feeders easily come apart to keep clean."

Joan Casanova of Green Earth Media Group agrees that winter is prime time for attracting birds.

"Beckoning birds to your backyard in winter can be easier than in any other season if you provide what they need to weather and survive the coldest months," Casanova said.

"Scarcity of natural available food, cold temperatures and severe storms push bird mortality high all winter long. You can help birds meet their nutritional needs during wintertime, and be rewarded with a diverse, frequent flock of feathered friends."

She also agrees with Wilks that while there are lots of birdfeed to choose from, much of it is produced as a sideline business and can contain low quality filler that birds won't eat.

"Some birdfeed has even been identified as containing toxins known to be harmful to wildlife," Casanova said.

"Responsible research on your bird feed choices will provide birds with the food they require and protect them from chemicals."

Cole's line of wild bird feed offers a wide variety of seed, suet and specialty products specifically formulated to attract birds with a promise that is all natural.

Elaine Cole, who created the line, has her own "bird feeding expertise" to attract happy birds to backyards this winter season.

"When temperatures drop, bird feeders give birds the extra energy they need to survive even the worst weather," Cole said.

"Foods high in oil and fat are the most popular winter picks."

Here are the staples of bird seed and feed according to Cole:

• Black Oil Sunflower Seeds: Seeds have slightly thinner shells and a higher oil content than other types of sunflower seeds, making them a more efficient and nutritious food. Offer them in platform, tube or hopper feeders to attract a wide range of hungry birds.

• Peanuts: From jays and titmice to nuthatches and chickadees, many backyard birds love this high-calorie, fat-rich nut. Because peanuts don't freeze, they're perfect for winter feeding.

• Niger: Also known as thistle seed is a favorite food for winter finches such as pine siskins, redpolls, and goldfinches. Another oily seed that offers lots of calories, niger helps birds store fat they need to keep warm.

• Fruit: Many songbirds that favor fruit migrate in winter. But many other birds that stay in snowy areas year-round will also enjoy the treat. Offer chopped apples, orange wedges, or banana slices, on platform feeders, spikes or nailed to trees. Chopped or dried fruit can also be added to suet mixtures. There's also the option of Cole's Nutberry Suet combining fruits, nuts and seed.

• Seed Mixes: For convenient and economical winter feeding; nothing beats a good-quality birdseed mix. While birds can tell a good mix just by looking at it, humans cannot. Choose a mix that features large proportions of sunflower seeds and millet, but avoid mixes with large proportions of unappetizing fillers such as wheat, milo and corn.  Learn about seed mixes at coleswildbird.com or visit jakesfeed.com or call the valparaiso store at (219) 477-4174.

In addition to food, Cole has a few other important "yard reminders" to help feathered friends.

Water: Fresh, liquid, moving water using birdbath spritzers or fountains will readily attract many backyard birds in winter. Add a heater to your water supply and you'll be surprised at the number of birds that use it.

Shelter: A cozy place to roost will keep backyard birds secure and comfortable even in the worst weather. Bird roost boxes and other shelters are essential to protect small birds from frigid, dropping temperatures. Offer birds a source of winter nesting material to use as insulation.

Serve safely: Just as backyard birds may be more desperate during the lean times of winter, so are predators such as cats and hawks. Position bird feeders in a safe place to protect them and pay attention to prints in the snow to learn what predators may be threatening your feeders.

"Start now preparing your yard for winter so birds will learn it's a safe place long before they're in desperate need," Cole said.

"By providing for birds' basic needs as cold weather approaches, it can be easy to attract birds to your yard in winter. You’ll enjoy their company even when the weather is at its worst."

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