We tend to notice birds as they arrive in our gardens in the spring because they are just another reminder that warm weather is around the corner. Their disappearance in the fall is usually less dramatic.
Instead there is an influx of new birds as well as the ones that are with us all year. These birds can add colour to the landscape and entertainment in our lives. The birds will gobble berries from trees and seeds from plants but they are also attracted to full feeders.
Start by placing a full bird feeder out early in the fall. If the birdfeeder was used before wash it with a light solution of bleach water and allow the bleach to dissipate before filling it. Mould, mildew and viruses can lurk in a feeder which will be detrimental to the birds.
There are many different types of birdseed on the market. Sunflower seeds are the most universal feed in Central Alberta. This means that if you want to attract the most birds to one feeder fill it with sunflower seeds. Ardent bird feeders are split between using black or striped sunflower seed. As birds are creatures of habit, ask the neighbours which they have had success with and follow suit.
There are other seeds, nuts and meals on the market that are attractive to specific varieties of birds. Do some research to decide which birds you wish to attract before making a purchase. Myrna Pearman and Ted Pike’s book Naturescape Alberta contains excellent information on feeding birds.
It is best to avoid seed mixtures unless they are mixes of native materials that are made specifically for the area. Often the mixes are manufactured else where and shipped through out North America. If the birds are not familiar with the seeds chances are they will not eat them. Often the seeds will be swept out of the feeder and on to the ground by the birds’ beak. The result is a waste of money and extensive weeding in the spring.
Suet will also attract birds and can be purchased from a butcher in its raw form or bought as lard. Most people hang the suet in a mesh bag.
Set up the bird feeders with care. While we want to watch the birds we also do not want to see them crash into windows. For this reason the feeder should either be within three feet (one metre) of the window or more that 13 feet (four metre) from the window. Feeders placed in the area between 3-13 feet (1-4 metres) are more likely to have birds hitting windows.
Where dogs and wildlife are a problem, place the feeders higher, out of their reach. While the hopper is the traditional feeder a number of species prefer to feed off the ground or an open tray. Ground feeding birds will go under hanging feeders and eat what has been spilt but more will be attracted to their own feeding station.
When setting up a ground feeding area keep in mind that the birds are very vulnerable to cats. If possible make sure all shrubs are at least 30 feet (10 metres) from the feeder.
A tray feeder is a flat surface placed a number of feet off the ground. The feeder may or may not have a roof. Unlike the hopper, this feeder will have to be swept cleaned and replenished frequently. Setting up a feeder now and keeping it full will provide entertainment in the coming months.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org