Foam Lake Birding No. 66

No. 66
The last of the summer birds are now completely gone, but with the onset of unseasonably warm weather the winter birds are still up north on their summer grounds. However quite a few summer residents that have spent the breeding season away from towns are now active in our yards and can be attracted to feeders. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Red Breasted and White Breasted Nuthatches, Black Capped Chickadees and the ever present House Sparrows are regulars at our feeders already. It is interesting to watch them fly from feeder to feeder picking and choosing what appeals to them at the moment. Ravens and Magpies have been in our yard, but appear to have ignored the feeders.
In this article I will go into some detail about the different types of feed that can be used to feed seed eaters. There certainly is a wide variety. Some grains have a lot of appeal to many different birds; some appeal to only a few; others have very little appeal to any birds. The answer is to have several feeders with a variety of feed. Stores usually have a good selection of bird seed some of which is quite expensive – seeds that birds like. Local farmers often grow crops that can be used as bird food and usually the “price is right”.
The most common seed found in stores is usually labeled as mixed wild bird seed. The bags are clear plastic embellished with pretty pictures of Cardinals, Blue Jays and Goldfinches to name a few. The contents are a pale yellow mixture sprinkled with some black oil seed. The main component of the feed stock is millet with lesser amounts of canary seed, cracked wheat and black oil seed and a few others. Although this particular feed is cheap not many birds in our area will touch it, with the exception of House Sparrows. Even so, the sparrows will scatter the millet and canary seed in order to get at the black oil seed and cracked wheat contained within.
Sunflower seeds are a great favourite for birds of all kinds including some insect eaters. The smaller dark version of sunflower seeds, usually referred to as black oil seed, is preferred by most birds, but not all. A few birds prefer the regular seed, so a good strategy is to provide both. Both of these seeds used to be quite cheap, but with increasing numbers of people feeding birds the demand has gone up and so has the price.
Unquestionably, the all time favourite of seed eating birds is black thistle seed generally referred to as niger or nyjer seed. As with sunflower seed it used to be cheap, but has gotten very pricey. Birds will eat many dollars worth in a day so some sort of rationing is necessary. More on this and other related matters in the next week’s article.
The last three varieties are canola, canary and wheat. In my experience no birds are exactly crazy about any of them, but all three are slowly consumed over time. Wheat has to be cracked into smaller bits. Red Polls actually seem to like canola over nyjer. All three can be obtained from local farmers and usually at a very “favourable price”.
This week’s photo is of House Finches feeding on seeds spilled from feeders onto the ground (snow) below. White Crowned, White Throated, Harris’s and Lincoln’s Sparrows will clean up under the feeders in the spring while House Sparrows and Red Polls will do so in the winter. All of these birds prefer to feed on the ground but will use feeders if they have to. Thus, spilled bird seed is not as wasteful as it first seems. Even so, hanging feeders over a flower bed is not advisable as the shells of sunflower and nyjer seeds can be a problem.