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A wild bird's feeding guide

Posted: Thursday, November 02, 2000

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. -- It's time to fill the bird feeders.

Birds don't need to be fed. They did just fine before humans came along. But birds are invited into people's backyards so they can be watched, studied and enjoyed. The 60 million-plus Americans who feed wild birds invest their time and money because it's an easy way to bring a slice of nature into their lives.

Sure, birds benefit from this generosity, and they gladly accept it. But if all feeders disappeared overnight, birds would make do with nature's bounty -- seeds, berries and nuts -- just as they did for millennia before anyone filled the first bird feeder.

Because birds fly, they visit many food patches everyday. When one is exhausted, they find another. So filling feeders is done more to satisfy the birdwatchers than the birds.

The one exception to this rule, however, is extreme winter weather. Blizzards, ice storms and periods of extended cold make natural foods unavailable. Birds can die of starvation and exposure unless they have access to feeders.

Here is some information about the major ingredients found in bird food mixes:

--Black-oil sunflowers seeds are the single most important ingredient in wild bird food combinations. More is better. These small, thin-shelled seeds are easy to open and rich in fat and protein.

--Striped sunflower seeds have larger, thicker shells than black-oil seeds, but are great for birds physically able to crack them.

--Hulled sunflower seeds, which are also called sunflower kernels or sunflower chips, are ideal for most birds because they are pure food -- no waste, no litter, no germination.

--Nyjer is a tiny, black, oil-rich seed. Finches love it. It is imported from Africa and India, so it is expensive. Sterilized upon entry to the U.S., nyjer does not germinate in backyards.

--A variety of ground-feeding sparrows and game birds eat several types of millet, but most backyard birds prefer white millet.

--Game birds and crows love whole corn. Cracked corn appeals to many backyard birds, but it spoils quickly when wet and attracts some undesirable birds.

--Melon seeds rival sunflower seeds in popularity with many birds.

--Nut meats are natural, nutritious, high-energy foods for many birds, including woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.

--Peanuts in the shell provide an excellent source of protein and fat for strong-billed birds such as blue jays, titmice, nuthatches and some woodpeckers.

--Milo and cereal grains such as wheat and oats are often used as a filler in cheap, poor quality seed mixes.

Read seed mix labels and avoid blends that contain these ingredients.

The key to attracting birds to backyard feeders is to offer the foods they prefer. Plan your menu carefully to make your backyard buffet irresistible to the greatest variety of birds.

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