All the Backyard Birds: West

All the Backyard Birds: West

by Jack Griggs



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062736321
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/28/1998
Series: American Bird Conservancy Compact Guides Series
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 4.00(w) x 6.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Jack Griggs is the author of the bestselling All the Birds of North America and the creator of the Cornell Bird Library series. He lives in South Haven, Michigan.

Margaret A. Barker was the coordinator of Project FeederWatch for six years. She lives in Freeville, New York.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

How to attract birds.

There are four fundamental attractions for birds: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young, all of which are easily provided in backyards.

Food is the most basic and obvious bird attraction, and more birds are attracted to black-oil sunflower seeds ("oilers" to birdfeeding veterans) than to any other seed. The black-oil sunflower seeds are smaller compared to the more familiar large striped varieties. Other attractive seeds are thistle seeds, striped sunflower seeds, split peanuts, peanuts in the shell, white proso millet, and various nuts.

It is important to note that not everything labeled "birdseed" is eaten by birds. Many birdseed mixes contain filler products, seeds that add only weight and actually detract from the mix's attractiveness. Grains like milo, oats, wheat, rice, and canary seed, as well as the ambiguous "mixed grain products," are best avoided. Table scraps are not recommended for birds either Bread crumbs, crackers, and similar foods are just empty calories that offer very little nutrition.

When most people think of bird feeding, they think first of offering seed. However, only a minority of the birds that surround us are seed-crushers. Many additional birds can be attracted to your feeding station if you offer suet, fruit, mealworms, or nectar.

Suet is the fat that surrounds beef kidneys. It will attract woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and brown creepers. It is also occasionally eaten by catbirds, mockingbirds, orioles, and warblers, among others. Suet is very dense and should not be confused with fat trimmingsfrom other beef parts. Plain fat is not as beneficial, has a much higher water content, and will freeze in cold weather.

Suet is not just for winter feeding. Most commercially available suets have been rendered, meaning that they have been boiled repeatedly to remove impurities and to prevent them from going rancid. There is even "summer suet" or suet cloughs that are made to survive hot weather without melting.

Suet is best attached directly to the trunk of a large deciduous tree, at least initially. This is where the birds that feed on suet look for their food in the wild.

Fruit like oranges, grapes, and bananas attract orioles and tanagers. Bug-eating birds such as bluebirds, wrens, and many others readily take mealworms. And, of course, no feeding station would be complete without the presence of nectar for hummingbirds.

The accepted formula for hummingbird nectar is four to five parts water to one part plain table sugar I don't recommend the use of commercially prepared nectars or the use of coloring. Do not use any artificial sweeteners or honey. It is important to maintain a nectar feeder regularly Nectar ferments rapidly and can be hazardous to hummingbirds if left out for more than a day or two. Nectar should be changed more often in hot weather.

How to dispense bird food, particularly seed, is an important choice to make. There are three basic designs for seed feeders: the tube feeder, usually made of polycarbonate and designed to hang from a tree or hook; the open platform feeder, which may or may not be covered; and the hopper feeder, basically a platform feeder with a Plexiglas center (the hopper) to hold and dispense seed.

Most tube feeders are designed to dispense black-oil sunflower seeds. Nearly all of the small seed-eaters that perch on tube feeders have such a strong preference for oilers that using a mixture of seeds is often counterproductive. If you are presently filling your tube feeders with mixed seeds, you probably lave witnessed the birds employing a technique called "bill sweeping" By sweeping their beaks from side to side, the birds remove everything but the oilers. And you get to fill your tubes more often.

Some tube feeders have very small ports designed to dispense thistle (technically known as niger seed. These feeders primarily attract goldfinches.

All tube feeders are designed for small birds. The jays, cardinals, grosbeaks, grackles, and woodpeckers are too big to use them. This is good for the small seed-eaters, which are often bullied off feeders that will accommodate larger birds. But if you can only have one feeder, you should consider a hopper feeder.

Hopper feeders are the most popular type, and a well-designed one will provide enough room to attract a large variety of birds. Both perching birds and ground feeders will visit a hopper feeder with a large landing area. The large seed capacity of the hopper feeder is another attractive feature for the people who have to fill them. Many hopper feeders will hold several pounds of birdseed and don't have to be filled every day Because of the variety of birds a hopper feeder can attract, it is an excellent place to use a high-quality mixture of seeds.

The platform or fly-through feeder attracts perhaps the widest variety of birds. The open design of these feeders allows birds to come and go from all directions, There is no dispensing mechanism to clog, so you are free to use virtually any food or combination of foods. Use peanuts in the shell if you want regular visits from jays, nutcrackers, and woodpeckers. These feeders are also ideal for serving fruit during the warmer months. I attach suet to my platform feeder to increase visits from woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches.

About four times a year it is a good idea to give your feeders a thorough cleaning. Feeders can get dirty, and wet seed can mold rapidly, making a feeding station unhealthy Once a season I take down all my feeders over the course of a few days, hose them, soak them in a strong solution of white vinegar, and scrub them with a long-handled brush designed for feeder cleaning. I use vinegar, not bleach, because of the toxicity of chlorine and the fact that it can cloud tube feeders. Regular cleaning will help ensure a healthy feeding station in your yard.

All the Backyard Birds West. Copyright © by Jack Griggs. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Pete Dunne

These guides are the best thing to hit backyard birding since black oil sunflower seed. Not a kitchen window sill in North America should be without.

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