December 2009
Featured Articles

Feeding Wintering Birds While Helping Yourself


Feeding the Flock Qualifies as STAR Project

One of the most pleasurable things about winter, to me, is feeding the flock. Who doesn’t love to watch outside a kitchen window and see all kinds and colors of birds coming to feed at their feeders? It surely brightens a cold, gloomy day. It helps the birds, but it probably helps us even more. That, my friend, is a STAR project for sure! What is STAR? I’m glad you asked. Let’s get ready to feed the flock, brighten our view AND find out about STAR!

Why would feeding birds help us? Research has shown time and time again that interaction with nature calms us, heals us, makes us happier and less stressed, and even lowers blood pressure. That’s what WE get out of the deal. Not to mention the pure joy of watching the birds.

STAR is a project of the Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs division of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. One of the main branches of the STAR project, which is headed up by extension specialist Marilyn S. Johnson, is an initiative to get people outside and physically active in nature. We’re trying to help get Alabama out of the national championship races in obesity and premature deaths. We’ve still got a long way to go.

Now...about feeding the birds. What feed is best? Sunflower seeds will attract the widest variety of birds and are the recommended choice for hanging and pole-mounted feeders. The smaller, black, oil-type sunflower seeds are preferred by most songbirds.

When using mixed seeds, you’ll want to avoid mixes containing milo, wheat, oats, rye or rice. Why? Because most songbirds will turn up their noses at these seeds and they will, instead, attract nuisance birds like pigeons and starlings. The mixes containing the good stuff – like sunflower seeds, cracked corn, safflower, peanut hearts, etc. — are more expensive. Cracked corn and mixed seeds make excellent feed to spread on the ground. Doing this will cause great gatherings of birds at one time for "bird parties" you can watch and enjoy.

Many species of birds not attracted to feeders can be drawn in with suet feeders. Suet is a hard beef fat which can be obtained from your butcher or your local Quality Co-op and dispensed in cages, baskets, bags, pine cones, logs, etc. The birds love it because it’s a high-energy food for winter and it helps replace insects in their diet. Thrashers, flickers, woodpeckers, thrushes, kinglets, wrens, catbirds, orioles, juncos and sparrows are a few of the many kinds of birds who love suet feeders.

Remember to make sure there is plenty of fresh water available for the birds attracted to your yard. Bird baths provide excellent sources for water and can even be equipped with heaters...or you can use the melting/replenishing of their water as an excuse to get outside and get some fresh air and exercise. That would be even better! It’s a win/win situation.

Jerry A. Chenault is an Urban Regional Extension Agent with Alabama Cooperative Extension System in the New and Nontraditional Programs division.