"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Feeding Wildlife
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres

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 looking.

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. 

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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