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Top 10 Winter Bird Feeding Mistakes to Avoid

If you feed the birds in your yard, you probably know that there are some things that work and others that fail miserably. In the spirit of David Letterman's famous Top Ten Lists, here are the Top Ten Winter Bird Feeding Mistakes to Avoid.

10. Filling your tube feeder with mixed seed. If you do this, all the seed will run out onto the ground, making the sparrows, pigeons, and blackbirds very happy. Solution: Use sunflower seed instead.

9. Ground feeding in the same place all winter. If you scatter seed on the ground all winter in one place, you will create a stinky, messy, unhealthy zone that will be hard to clean up in the spring. Solution: Change feeding spots several times, especially during wet weather.

8. Ignoring feeder hygiene. Yes, it's cold outside, but dirty feeders can still make birds sick. Solution: Wash your feeders at least monthly in a light (9:1) water-to-bleach solution. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry.

7. Buying your seed at the grocery store. OK, some stores do sell good seed mixes, but most just sell cheap mixes. And there's a reason this seed is so cheap. Solution: Read the label. The ingredients should be sunflower, millet, and cracked corn. If wheat, milo, barley, and other seeds are listed as main ingredients, get your seed elsewhere.

6. Feeding last year's leftover seed. Seed, like any other food, ages. Moths and weevils eat the seed. If your old seed is full of cobwebs, it's been invaded by flour moths and is no good. Solution: Throw it out and get new seed.

5. No feeder variety. Ground feeding is fine, but many birds prefer to use hanging or raised feeders. If you're feeding on the ground and are wondering where the chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers are, try this: Solution: Use hanging feeders (hopper style, or tube or satellite feeders) and limit the ground feeding; you'll soon get some other, smaller songbirds to visit your feeders.

4. Believing that no thistle seed means no goldfinches. This is not true. Sure, goldfinches, siskins, and other finches love thistle (or niger) seed. But it's an expensive seed to offer exclusively. Solution: All these species will come readily to feeders that stock only black-oil sunflower seed. Augment this with thistle if you wish.

3. Feeding birds lots of stale bread. The birds may seem to love your stale bread, but bread to a hungry bird is like popcorn is to a hungry human: Lots of filler, but no real nutritional value. Bread also attracts mostly starlings and house sparrows. Solution: Offer apples, oranges, meat scraps, rendered suet, mealworms, or other nutritional foods instead.

2. Trying to baffle squirrels. Losing the squirrel wars? Solution: Offer dried corn, either cracked or still on the ear, elsewhere in your yard, away from your bird feeders. You might distract the squirrels for an entire day. And you might learn to love them!

1. Taking down your feeder so the birds will migrate. It is simply not true that your feeders keep birds from migrating. (By the way, hummingbirds don't migrate on the backs of geese, either.) Birds that migrate know when to leave. Your feeders, no matter how nice and well-stocked they are, will not delay a migrant sparrow, finch, or grosbeak for even one second. Solution: Feed birds all year long if you like doing so. And don't worry, be happy!

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Bird Feeding Chart

This table lists bird species on the left column and feed types above the rest of the columns. A mark in a column indicates a feed that that bird will eat.

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Finch Feeders: Is Thistle Seed Safe to Feed?

Question: I purchased a filled thistle sock from you at a Texas bird festival. When I got home my husband said that thistle seed makes tumbleweeds and that I shouldn’t use the thistle sock because Russian Thistle is an invasive plant that should be exterminated. Is he right, am I planting tumbleweeds when I feed the goldfinches?

Answer: This is not the first time I have this question from people who start using ”thistle” in their finch feeders. The confusion comes in the terminology. What I sold you is Guizotia abyssinica, an erect, stout, branched annual herb originally from the Ethiopian Highlands. The common name there is nigernood, which translates to the blackseed. When the seed became a cash crop, and exported to the U.S., companies changed the name of the blackseed to thistle seed to cash in on the finches affinity for native thistle (not the invasive thistle your husband is refering to.)

Later the Wild Bird Feeding Industry (WBFI) has trademarked the name Nyjer. Their goal is to have the seed referred to as Nyjer so as not to confuse it with Russian Thistle. They felt a spelling change was nessessary to avoid any thoughts of a racial slur.

Before you purchase Nyjer for use in your thistle feeder, the seed is heated to 120 degrees for 15 minutes to sterilize the Nyjer seed. This insures that you may fill your “thistle feeder” for your goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Redpolls and Purple Finches and not spread invasive seeds in your landscape.

So, your husband was right, Russian Thistle does indeed make tumbleweeds. However, you may feed Nyjer seed without worry. 

The birds and I thank you for your interest in feeding wild birds.

PS: this article of question and answer from TOM'S BIRD FEEDERS, It is really useful for us to know the Nyjer.

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Bird feeding hygiene rules

Follow these simple hygiene rules when feeding your garden.

Ensuring you follow some basic rules regarding hygiene is essential all year round but particularly during the summer months when food can go off quicker if not eaten. 

Ensure you offer food to your birds regularly while controlling the quantity fed at any one time, to ensure food is all eaten and doesn’t lie about too long as it can quickly go off. A little often is the best rule especially in the summer. Using a bird table or hanging feeders is recommended. 

After removing any stale uneaten food use a stiff long handled brush to clean inside your tube shaped feeders - this should be a regular routine before refilling your feeders. Feeders can be cleaned with a non toxic disinfectant such as bird gard then rinsed with clean water, left to dry before refilling.

Using a ground feeding tray or bird table is better than offering food directly from the ground, as is easier to clean and take up uneaten food at night to reduce leftover food attracting mice & rats which can carry disease to birds and humans. 

All feeding tools & equipment, bird table, feeders & trays should be regularly washed with old food thrown away and replaced with a fresh supply. Also ensure you clean up and wash down regularly any areas where food has blown or fallen underneath where feeding taken place. Water containers or baths are also important and fresh water should be offered daily. 

For your personal hygiene its advisable to wear gloves when cleaning feeders, tables and trays. 

Clean feeders outside using tools set aside especially for this job. Wash hands before and after handling all feeding equipment.

Follow these simple rules, sit back and enjoy your bird watching.

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How To Attract The Birds With A Bird Feeder?

If you are interested to welcome birds into your garden, place the bird feeder in your garden.

Bird feeder is one type of arrangement or equipment, which is used to place food for the birds. There are various types of bird feeders available in the market.

Afford them if you like to have ready-made bird feeder or else you can make your unique bird feeder in order to attain different look from the other bird feeders.

Birds will not come into your garden when you place the bird feeder for the first time. Birds require time to identify or recognize the source of food. Placement of the bird feeder is the essential aspect.

Try to place the bird feeder at certain height so that it will be visible for the birds. Don’t place the bird feeder in some crowded places. Birds don’t prefer the places where there are lots of people because they feel to have privacy while eating.

The food which you keep in the bird feeders is also an important thing. Birds don’t like to eat the same food for long period of time. So change the grains which you are offering for the birds at regular intervals of time.

Winter is the best season to arrange the bird feeder because in this season birds will have scarcity of food and certainly they will search for various food sources available for them. You can enjoy the company of the birds by placing the bird feeders near your house or at your garden.

You can make the birds feel more pleasure to come and eat the food by placing a tub of water near the bird feeder. Birds love to enjoy bath after eating. By placing the water tub near the feeder they will enjoy a lot and stay there for a long period of time.

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One of my earliest happy memories is visiting my Grandmother, who had a beautifully planned garden, and in which the pride of place went to the bird feeder.

This was where birds of all shapes and sizes and hues would congregate through the day, and I would spend hours watching them, perched on my Grandma’s lap, munching on chocolate cookies and drinking my glass of milk.

I too have a bird feeder in my garden, where birds of all kinds come to eat, which my grandchildren love to come and watch.

Bird feeder plans

There are many types of bird feeders available in the market today for a price, but how about making the construction of a bird feeder into a family project, which involves your kids or grand kids?

Hexagonal Bird Feeder: Take this simple plan, for one: cut pieces of wood into 9inch lengths, and assemble them together into a hexagonal shape. Cut a screen into a hexagonal shape, measuring the same dimensions as the strips of wood would when nailed together, and stick both together.

When assembled, the screen at the bottom will drain away the rain water, and help keep the bird seed dry. Mount it and place it in the garden, and watch the birds arrive!

Hardware cloth suet feeder: The Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center recommends the hardware cloth suet feeder, which has a sliding roof, and a feeder made of hardware cloth. This is easy to make, and maintenance free.

Plexiglas bird feeder: The Missouri Department of Conservation recommends the Plexiglas bird feeder. This bird feeder can either be mounted on a post, or hung from a tree with a hanger, preferably close to bushes and branches of your tree so that the birds can arrive and retreat at their pleasure.

The feeder must be made with Plexiglas sides so that you can watch the level of the feed. If you make it in such a way that you can remove one side, it could be easier for you to maintain and keep clean.

Eco-friendly bird feeder: There is this eco-friendly bird feeder that I loved using, and which I would recommend. This one does not need much building: all you have to do is make a sliding roof shelter for the bird feeder, place a flat of green grass onto the roof, and hang the entire assembly onto your tree.

The roof provides a natural shelter for the feed, and is pleasing to the eye as well. Just remember to water the grass on the roof whenever you change the bird feed.

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How To Keep Away Squirrels From Your Bird Feeder?

Location is the secret weapon in your war against squirrels. Locate your bird feeder in a spot that is inaccessible by squirrels.

Hanging it in a high place will do the trick but hanging it in a tree is useless as squirrels can climb trees.

Rather hang it on a shiny, high polished pole that cannot be climbed.

Applying some grease or oil will make the squirrels irritated and they will give up eventually and leave the bird feeder alone.

In this way your feathered friends can access their food without being bothered by squirrels. To prevent squirrels from trying to eat the bird food rather put their preference of food at the bottom or near the birdfeeder. Some squirrels are greedy and will attack the bird feeder anyway.

Some bird feeders can be located anywhere, whether your house is fenced or not, as they are already designed to guard themselves against squirrels.

These bird feeders have accessories like screens which keep the squirrels away from the seeds. These are more efficient as they are flexible and do not depend on where they are located.

Some feeders are topped or covered with a large dome of plastic, this keeps squirrels out because squirrels would have climbed onto the device from a pole but will encounter a baffle which in turn will prevent them from gaining access.

This method is not very efficient as the squirrel will fall to the ground with a few seeds so as it will appease him and drive him to try again. Some squirrels have discovered that they can empty the bird feeder by bouncing from it.

The more complex and sophisticated the bird feeder is, the more expensive it usually gets. These bird feeders restrict squirrels access by the use of ‘‘mechanical principle” that closes the point of entry when an animal weighing as much as a squirrel comes by.

These new designs which are based on the principle of exclusion are becoming more popular and some models have cages that do not permit not only squirrels but big birds too into the bird feeder.

Squirrels do not have the same preferences as birds and you can use this to your advantage by incorporating foods that squirrels dislike such as safflower seeds instead of bird seeds. They dislike the taste and this will act as a deterrent hopefully forever. It’s not so hard keeping these creatures away from your bird feeder is it?

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How to Stop Squirrels from Eating Your Birdseed

Many would-be bird watchers lure squirrels to their feeders as well as birds. How do you stop squirrels from eating the birdseed and tearing up the bird feeders? All wooden and plastic feeders can be damaged by squirrels if they can get to them. Most damage occurs when the seed is hard to get to, such as when the feeder is almost empty. Squirrels will chew into wood or plastic to get the last few seeds.

Keeping feeders full, using good quality feeders with metal ports or using open-tray style platform feeders where the seed is readily available will help eliminate squirrel damage. But if you are fed up, here are some good ways to stop squirrels from taking over your bird feeders.
1.Squirrel-Proof Feeders. There are several on the market that are weight-activated, allowing birds to feed but not squirrels. Some have better features, and might last longer, but are also a bit on the expensive side.
2.Use a squirrel-resistant feeder if you are budget minded. These tend to be less expensive, and are not quite as sturdy but will do the trick. These feeders will definitely slow down the seed consumption and might work if you only have an occasional squirrel, but are not truly squirrel-proof like the choices above.
3.Buy foods that squirrels do not like. Nyger seed, millets, safflower, canary seed and canola seed all are ingredients that squirrels avoid. Unfortunately a hungry squirrel will eat anything that will provide it nourishment.
4.Do mix hot pepper (capsaicin) into bird seed. It is a non-toxic ingredient and will not harm or kill birds. It will not lower body temperature and will not freeze birds in cold climates. Pepper seeds are disseminated naturally by birds eating these seeds in the wild. The only caveat might be the use of powdered hot pepper. This powdered form is not natural to birds and if wind-blown could cause temporary discomfort to the eyes due to nerves about the mucous membrane. An alternative would be the use of crushed hot pepper flakes, hot pepper seeds, hot peppercorns (whole or cracked) or coarsely ground hot pepper.
5.Use baffles to prevent a squirrel or raccoon from climbing to a feeder. Baffles can be hung or placed on poles or posts and they work if used correctly. The magic formula is ten feet by five feet. That is, athletic squirrels can jump ten feet horizontally and five feet vertically.
-Pole baffles are the easiest to situate. You can use either a straight pole or a shepherd's staff pole, just make sure that it is tall enough. Place the pole ten feet away from any trees, fence or other structure from where the squirrel might jump. Mount the baffle five feet high on the pole.
-Make sure that feeders hang above the top of the baffle. If you want to hang a baffle, the best way is to string a wire between two trees, place the baffle in the middle, ten feet away from either tree, and hang the feeder underneath the baffle.
-Make sure the bottom of the feeder is above five feet. Metal baffles tend to be most effective.
6. Relocation is not as effective as some of the other methods, but you can eliminate problem squirrels by using live traps to harmlessly catch and relocate them to another area. Squirrel populations tend to build back up quickly though, so this can be an ongoing effort. Make sure to take the squirrels several miles away and give them a nice, new home with lots of trees! Please do not relocate nursing females.
7.Diversion feeding doesn't work very well, but if you can't beat them, enjoy them! Get a squirrel feeder and give them a little corn or some critter munchies. They can be very entertaining too!
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