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LBL Wildlife Report: Backyard Bird Feeding

Tube feeders are great for feeding small birds like chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, and even cardinals.
Tube feeders are great for feeding small birds like chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, and even cardinals.

In the next installment of the LBL Wildlife Report, Tracy Ross and Woodlands Nature Station lead naturalist John Pollpeter discuss backyard bird feeding.

"Even before COVID, this is one of the fastest-growing hobbies out there in the United States," Pollpeter begins. "More people tend to do wildlife viewing than they go to all the sports games combined over every year. Backyard birding is one of the bigger ones."

"It's something simple people can do. Get a couple of bird feeders at your local stores, fill it with different kinds of feed—depending on what kind of bird you're trying to attract—and really enjoy getting to sit back and watch Mother Nature right outside the window."

Pollpeter recommends focusing on seed-based feed during the winter months. "At other times of the year, it's important for them to get berries or insects. But in the winter, they're focused on seeds and maybe suet, which is a combination of fat and peanut butter."

He advises starting with simple tube feeders "because most of the birds can use a tube feeder. Get something that has metal around the orbits where the bird can feed because a lot of times, squirrels will get on it and destroy it trying to get to the seeds. So, you want to get something a little squirrel-proof."

Other feeders include platform feeders, which mourning doves and sparrows prefer. Woodpeckers use a suet feeder cage, and hummingbirds drink a 4:1 sugar water mixture out of a specially designed tube feeder.

Pollpeter says a well-loved birdfeed is black oil sunflower seed. "Your cardinals like it, your woodpeckers, nuthatch, chickadees, titmice. It's less desirable for starlings and house sparrows, but it is very popular to birds you do want to attract."

Conversely, Pollpeter suggests avoiding seed mixtures with lots of seed variety. "A lot of your seed is going to get wasted, and you're going to attract birds you don't want."

In addition to starlings and house sparrows, less desirable bird visitors include bluejays. Pollpeter says this is pretty unavoidable. "You're always going to have bullies," he explains. "But a lot of times, the little bird is more persistent and is able to sneak in and grab something they want and sneak back out. Usually, it's not too big of a problem."

As for the aftermath of all their eating? Pollpeter says that bird droppings will happen, but they aren't harmful to humans. Rather, "it's more for keeping the birds you're taking care of happy."

Finally, Pollpeter recommends considering your winged neighbors year-round. He suggests planting plants and landscaping your yard to promote larval hosts. "95% of all the birds that have visited your yard eat insects. They need these insects to raise their young."

"Anything that can be a larval host, caterpillars, in particular, can be very good at keeping birds in your yard and healthy. It takes 6,000 caterpillars to feed one clutch of chickadees. That's quite a bit to have in your yard to keep that family of chickadees happy."

For more LBL Wildlife Reports, click here. For more information on the Woodlands Nature Station, visit its website.

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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