Fall is bird feeding time! While some folks keep bird feeders stocked year-round, most bird enthusiasts turn their attention to backyard birds in the fall, after the summer-nesting birds have flown south and our resident birds start setting up their winter territories.
I plan to dedicate a few upcoming columns to the topic of backyard birds and bird feeding, starting with one of the most popular and nutritious offerings: peanuts.
Peanuts, which have high fat and protein content, are appealing to many insect-and seed-eating birds. They can be served unshelled, shelled, chipped (broken pieces) or in the form of peanut butter.
Peanuts in the shell are a magnet for Blue Jays. At this time of year, they will eagerly descend on offerings of peanuts, packing away any that they don’t immediately consume. They cache these excess seeds in nearby hiding spots, saving them for later in the winter when they’ll retrieve and eat them.
I usually place a handful of unshelled peanuts in a tray feeder for the Blue Jays, then fill up a peanut ring—a clever dispenser designed to require some aerial acrobatics before these expensive delicacies can be accessed.
The two types of shelled peanuts are those with the skin on (redskin) or off (blanched). The blanched ones are slightly more expensive than the redskins but are easier for chickadees and nuthatches to eat. I often set out a few shelled peanuts on a tray feeder as a special treat but ration out the rest from metal mesh tube feeders. These feeders are busy all day long with a steady parade of chickadees, nuthatches and several species of woodpeckers vying for a dining spot.
Peanut butter can be served as a stand-alone offering or mixed with suet/lard and dispensed from special suet logs or slathered directly as “bark butter” on tree trunks. This mixture will attract additional species, including kinglets and creepers.
Squirrels also love peanuts as well as peanut butter, so metal feeders, weight-activated feeders or special squirrel baffles can be used to deter these voracious competitors.
Note that wet peanuts can become contaminated with aflatoxins (naturally occurring toxins produced by certain species of fungi that flourish on some plants under humid conditions) so be sure to discard any that become soggy.
Backyard bird feeding is a wonderful way to bring nature into our own yards and gardens. If you have any questions about bird feeding, bird feeder styles or backyard bird identification, feel free to contact me.
Myrna Pearman, a nature writer, photographer and retired biologist, is the Resident Naturalist for Chin Ridge Seeds, Taber. Her best-selling book Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide can be ordered online from www.myrnapearman.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.