January 2006 18 / OutdoorIllinois January 2006 OutdoorIllinois / 19
ed States, second only to gardening.
Even a single feeder offering a single
seed type will attract a handsome and
interesting variety of species within easy
It may seem there is a bewildering
selection of feeders, but choosing a
feeder is as simple as deciding what
kinds of birds you wish to attract. Simply
furnish the right food in the right feeder
to invite the birds you want.
If you are going to offer only one
type of food on one feeder, black oil
sunflower seeds—the number-one
choice of many songbirds—on a tray
feeder would be the best choice.
Although all types of sunflower seeds
will be readily eaten, birds prefer black
oil sunflower seeds (solid black hull)
over the striped variety as it is highest
in food value. Bird enthusiasts favor the
black oil seeds because its thinner
husks leave the least amount of waste.
Tray feeders are open platforms on
which the seeds are scattered. This may
be as simple as a board on a short pole
for easiest cleaning, or it may include a
hopper that dispenses food, requiring
less frequent filling. Drainage holes in
the bottom of the tray will keep the
seeds from sitting in rain water and
molding before they are eaten. Chick-adees,
titmice, nuthatches, blue jays
and downy and red-bellied woodpeckers
prefer sunflower seed on a tray feeder.
Northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco,
rufous-sided towhee and mourning dove
can be included by mounting the feeder
near the ground.
Although birds will readily eat seed
off the ground, it should always be dis-pensed
from a feeder. Putting seed
directly on the ground will eventually
cause seed to be mixed with an
unhealthy concentration of bird drop-pings
and mold. Feeders should be reg-ularly
cleaned to reduce the spread of
disease among birds.
To increase the variety of birds
attracted to a feeding station, a mixed
seed high in millet is often added to sun-flower
seed. White-throated, white-crowned,
song, chipping and American
tree sparrows, common grackles and
red-winged blackbirds may be lured with
mixed seed. Avoid purchasing mixes
that include milo and wheat as these are
used as fillers to keep prices low and
are not readily eaten.
Insect-eating birds can be enticed to
your backyard with a suet feeder. Beef
suet is a hard fat found near the kidneys
and loins that can be purchased from
the butcher and rendered at home, or
purchased in ready-made suet cakes.
Suet (or peanut butter) can be stuffed
into a small hanging log drilled with
holes, smeared directly on a tree trunk
or placed inside a plastic coated wire or
wooden suet feeder. Downy and red-bellied
woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sap-suckers,
chickadees, titmice and
nuthatches all appreciate suet. Provide
suet only during cold weather as it spoils
quickly in the heat.
Niger, sometimes called “thistle,” is a
tiny, black, high-fat and high-protein
seed imported from Ethiopia and India
that is preferred by finches. Although
more expensive than other seed, niger
offers many seeds per pound and yields
little waste. Niger is usually distributed
from a tube feeder—a cylindrical tube
with small ports and perches along its
length. These feeders have tiny holes
that reduce spillage and make the seed
available to small-billed finches. Niger is
a favorite of American goldfinches,
house and purple finches, and pine
siskins. Mourning doves and dark-eyed
juncos often visit the ground below a
niger feeder to claim dropped seeds.
When choosing your feeder, consider
which birds you wish to attract and the
amount of time (filling and cleaning) and
money you want to invest.
Hang your feeder where it can be
seen from your favorite perch, then sit
back and enjoy the colorful show.
Carol McFeeters Thompson is the site
interpreter at Weldon Springs State Park.
Peanuts, peanut butter and a
peanut butter-based suet provide
birds a diet high in protein and fat.
Black oil sunflower seeds (above)
are high in food value and attract a
diversity of bird species. Easy-to-make
peanut butter pine cone
feeders (left) attract woodpeckers,
chickadees and nuthatches.
Adding niger feeders to your feeder
system will draw purple finches,
goldfinches, pine siskins, redpolls
and a few other small birds.
Suet can be provided in ready-made
cakes or hanging bags, but
many people opt to make their
own feeders from tuna cans or by
drilling holes in a small log.
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