Foam Lake Birding No. 69

No. 69
Feeding seed eating birds is rather straight forward – provide seed that is readily accessible and the birds will come. Feeding insect eating birds is another matter. Fortunately, most resident birds, such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches, are adaptable enough to substitute oil seeds and nuts for animal (insect) fat and protein. Since providing insects in the winter time is nigh impossible substitutes are necessary. Some good ones are peanuts, peanut butter, fat (suet) vegetable oil and cornmeal.
Peanuts and fat are widely used throughout the world where people feed birds. Many people even have secret recipes in the conviction that their special concoctions will attract more birds. In our yard we use industrial peanuts that come in bulk straight from the farms (not roasted nor salted – no processing of any kind). For variety, we make a thick paste of peanut butter, coarsely ground peanuts, cornmeal and cooking oil. Other items such as honey and ground sunflower seed can be added, if so desired. Birds do like this mixture. Suet, the old standby used by our forefathers, is still very effective and inexpensive. Most butcher shops usually give the stuff away. Commercially prepared suet blocks are also available. However, to make the suet blocks last a long time, the fat has to be rendered. Then some seeds (shelled if necessary) are added before the fat solidifies. I have found that this product gives mixed results. Having tried this product many years, I have not been able to attract any birds at all (even Magpies would not touch it). On the other hand, I have talked to people who have had great success with them. The only thing to do is to try and see what happens.
Our resident birds will usually eat all of the items mentioned in this article. Woodpeckers do prefer the suet while chickadees and nuthatches seem to have no preferences. Woodpeckers will not eat oil seed while House Sparrows will not eat suet. The thing to keep in mind is that seeds can be provided all year round while concoctions with fat in them will go rancid in the summer and can only be provided in the winter.
This week’s photo is of a Boreal Chickadee feeding on suet in our yard. It is a rare winter visitor from the Boreal Forest that is a welcome addition when it does come. There were three of them in Foam Lake in the winter of 2006 – 2007. In a black and white picture the Boreal Chickadee looks like the Black Capped Chickadee, but in colour or observed in life it is noticeably different. The Boreal has a lot of brown on its sides while the Black Capped has some buff; the Boreal has a brown cap while the Black Capped has black. The Boreal’s song and call are like a hoarse version of the Black Capped.
The Boreal Chickadee is my “favourite” bird. Why? It was the bird that turned my wife into a birder. How? We lived in Wishart at the time and my wife could barely tell a robin from a crow. One winter, much to her amusement, I decided to put out some suet and sunflower seeds in our backyard near our glass patio doors. This arrangement provided a good view of the birds at mealtime, and very quickly we had a variety of birds at the feeders. One morning when we were watching chickadees feeding on the suet my wife said that one of the chickadees was different. Being a good husband, I decided to humour her by taking a look with my binoculars. To my complete surprise, she was right. It was a bird that I had never seen before - the Boreal Chickadee. I immediately went to my neighbour, a birder decades older than I was, to point out the bird to him. He, too, had never seen one before. This event piqued her interest and a birder was born.