Winter is bird feeder time!

Bird Feeding 101: Find the basics of starting to feed birds in your backyard, outside your classroom or with your 4-H club. Discover what types of feeders and seed work best.

As winter approaches, our feathered friends who stay the winter in Michigan can use some help with supplemental feeding. Michigan State University Extension recommends that now is the time to prepare for feeding birds so that it is enjoyable for you and good for the birds.

According to Wikipedia, over 55 million Americans feed wild birds and spend more than $3 billion a year on bird food, and another $800 million a year on bird feeders, baths, houses and other bird feeding accessories. There is no doubt that Michigan contributes to this total. Bird feeding provides many enjoyable opportunities to watch and learn about the habits, behaviors and life cycles of birds.

There are a few steps one must take to get started when beginning to feed birds. If you are using used feeders, make sure they are clean and free of bird droppings. Scrubbing them prior to use with a weak bleach solution will help eliminate any harmful bacteria that birds can carry.  Location is an important decision both for the birds and for your viewing pleasure. Having nearby shrubs and trees that provide cover for birds allows them more comfort to approach feeders. Placing feeders in a prominent location for viewing is desirable but not always practical. Choose a site that is good for birds and where they can be viewed for pleasure.

Making your feeder squirrel proof is a daunting challenge! If you don’t, you will lose a lot of seed on feeding squirrels. Baffles, hanging wires and other ingenious contraptions have been used to deter these crafty critters. Try various options, as squirrels will try the unthinkable when trying to get a free meal! This can be entertaining and frustrating at the same time.

The type of birds you attract will largely depend on the type of feeder and seed you select. Small tube shape feeders with pegs are great for finches, sparrows, chickadees and nuthatches. Feeders with a ledge will accommodate cardinals, blue jays, grosbeaks and other medium to larger birds.  Black sunflowers seeds are a good all-around choice for most birds. Chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays and juncos are frequent visitors to feeders with sunflower seeds. Thistle is a great choice to attract a variety of finches but the cost can be prohibitive and thistle seed requires a special feeder. Mixes containing millet, sunflower, corn and oats may look appealing but often birds will eat only the sunflower and push away the other “filler” seeds. Suet is a great addition to any feeder adding a tremendous energy and nutrition source for birds.

As youth engage in bird feeding activities, they can learn much about bird habits, the type of habitat birds live and their life cycles. Youth will enjoy spending time helping maintain the feeders and reap the benefits of watching. They may watch the birds more than watching TV or the iPad! Watching the transition of molting is gradual yet fun to see the changes! Counting the number of different bird species is a great project and always exciting when an unfamiliar visitor makes an appearance. There are many good bird activities and resources available for use such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Flying WILD Curriculum Guide. A bird feeding project is a wonderful experience for individuals, families, classrooms and 4-H clubs.

The Kellogg Biological Station run by Michigan State University provides tips on bird feeding and offers many birding experiences at the station. Consider a bird hike or create your bird feeding station right in your backyard! It is a fun and rewarding activity that the whole family will enjoy.

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