Gardening: Don’t forget your feathered friends this Christmas

Bird feeders help draw birds into the garden. Type of feed, style of feeder, and surrounding plantings play a big part in the variety and species of birds that come to feed.

Sunflower seeds, larger white striped or the smaller black oil, attract the largest variety of birds. As birds tend to be messy, expect to find birds at the feeder and on the ground below eating seeds that have been thrown over the edge. For those that do not like cleaning up the messy shells, pre-shelled seeds can also be used. Hopper or platform feeders both work well to distribute sunflower seeds

Canola seed is popular with Red Poles, House Finch, Goldfinch and Pine Siskins. Tube feeders with small holes tend to work well for small seeds such as canola but expect to pull a few canola plants in the spring.

Nyger seeds like the canola do best in the tube feeders. Nyger seeds are popular with small birds such as Nuthatches, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Redpolls and Pine Siskin.

Suet and peanut butter in combination or singularity attract birds such as Woodpeckers, Chickadees and Nuthatches. The suet that is usually recommended for birds comes from beef or sheep with the fat from around the heart and lungs being the most nutritious. Fat from pork, sold as lard is the bird’s second choice. Suet should be put out in the colder months and removed when the temperatures rise and the suet becomes soft and or rancid. Suet feeders are either metal cages or net begs which allow the birds to stick their beaks through to retrieve the product. These feeders should be removed when the temperature before the product becomes soft or rancid.

When purchasing peanut butter for the birds, look for brands that are low in sugar and salt. Peanut butter can be spread on flat surfaces, used to fill ones on log feeders or mixed with suet before being left for the birds.

Purchase mixed bird feed only if it is specially mixed for local area. Most commercially made varieties of mixed birdseed are sold throughout North America and contain filler seeds that are not recognized as food by most Central Alberta birds. Birds tend to sift through the seeds for the ones they want while discarding unknown varieties on the ground. The style and size of feeder should suit the feed and the desired birds. Before making a purchase, look at the list of seeds in the container. If they are not ones that are used locally, leave the package on the shelf.

Small feeders with a short distance between the perch and feed discourage larger birds such as Magpies as they are too large to perch and reach the food.

For birds to be attracted to feeders the area it must include the basics: shelter, water and food. Shelter in the form of deciduous and evergreen trees is important to allow the birds to nest, raise their young, avoid predators and stay warm.

Water features, bird baths, ponds and waterfalls are very attractive to birds. In the winter months birds naturally eat ice or snow but are attracted to an open water source.

Food can be in the form of feeders or seeds and insects in natural or green areas. In neighborhoods where feeders are plentiful, the birds are more prolific. Birds do not understand property boundaries and rarely have only one source of food but they will keep returning to areas where the food is consistently available.

These are not the only types of bird food available but they are the ones that are the most popular with birds in Central Alerta.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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