With weather patterns pretty well established
in the Midwest now (the sun is south of the equator) we are going to experience
much more of freeze-thaw conditions, and it could get to blizzard conditions
where the ground is covered by snow for long periods of time.
In that period, it is generally said by the protectors
of wild birds and animals that they are best left to grub out their own
food without help from man. I don’t believe it.
Some of the scientific guys--not all of them--believe
bird feeding (and other acts by man) really are best serving those who
try to help wildlife rather than the wildlife--a sort of false good feeling.
Actually, feeding birds or even critters, tends
to set them up as smorgasbords for hawks and some other predatory animals.
As tough as it is to see an occasional fluff of feathers or blood-spattered
snow, the hawks have to eat, too. Still, I shush them away when they come
to my food areas for din-din.
Before you start eith providing “Fancy Dan” stuff
for nature’s children, take enough time to realize that their needs are
threefold. From there you can deal with the frills.
The little ones need food, water and cover from
the elements. That’s all. The rest is superfluous, though often it is interesting
gimcrackery. You see such stuff in birdfeed stores as a little chair that
is nailed backside to a tree with a spike in front on which is placed an
ear of field corn. The idea is--and it sometime plays out that way--the
squirrel sits in the chair with the ear of corn between back legs and eats
with forepaws and teeth. The directions fail to tell you that ear of corn
will cost you more than 30 cents each at pet stores. I get mine in harvested
fields free. I stick them on a nail pounded half an inch into a waste tree,
then cutting off the head with a hacksaw. Easy game, Coach!
I find critters and birds are best at eating nuts
(of all kinds, including un-roasted, unsalted peanuts), black oil sunflower
seed, grains of corn (cracked or whole), and various seeds from plants.
They also like so-called weed seed. The various foxtails are very good
for birds, not to mention the seeds ofmany other weeds. The seed of giant
ragweed (horseweed) is even quite tasty for man. And don’t forget some
vegetable matter, cut fine or in chunks.
After the countries quit playin “airlift,” in
Germany after WWII, I developed my own version of the game with two cane
fishing poles wired together for length, a half-gallon milk carton with
string bales tied to the four sides of the cut-away opening, the carton
filled with shelled corn, sunflower seeds, chunks of apples, potatoes,
cheese, and stale bread.
Twenty feet above terra firma there was an opening
just large enough for the carton to enter if swung in pendulum style. If
the swinger of the carton lowered the carton at just the right time, the
bottom of the carton would hit the bottom of the tree opening and the carton
would upend into the hole, showering congregated raccoons with a smorgasbord.
It was a fun thing for adults, life-giving for the coons who hibernated
in hollows during bad winter weather.
Placing the food that you put out for birds and
small animals may be more important than the food itself, especially in
the area of going to lunch with a hawk (especially when the bird or critter
is the lunch). Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are the worst offenders,
but I have to fight for the birds, even if hawks gotta eat, too. Everybody’s
favorite, the great blue heron, also wears a black hat when we are not
I lessen this problem by placing my food under
bushes that grow toward the earth. It is more difficult for hawks to move
quickly in brush. Even limbs on the ground help.
Snow, which we likely will see more of before
the sun comes our way, also is a problem--the deeper, the greater the problem.
Snow can’t be shoveled or scraped under bushes, but a tarp tied over the
top of bushes will keep much snow out. Blowing is a problem, too, but an
object placed on the windward side of the feeding area may thwart this.
A short snow fence is ideal.
Beating the heat--or lack of it--is a problem
on sub-zero, windy winter nights, but this can be beaten in many novel
ways. Protected light fixtures, chummy birdhouses located under the eaves
on the windward side of buildings, light fixtures with openings, and thousands
of other shelters help tremendously. My pair of resident Carolina wrens
fill an outdoor fixture with moss for nesting. On very cold nights I warm
the bulb a bit.
So go at it. Help the birds.