Half the sunflower seed harvest of South Dakota passes through the bird feeders in my mom’s backyard. She needs an air traffic controller to keep kamikaze hummingbirds from colliding with blue jays, finches and an ark of other flying friends. Calling this bird feeding is like referring to the Civil War as a misunderstanding.
To put the eating habits of birds in perspective, consider this: The average bird will consume the equivalent of 25-50 percent of its body weight daily. A ruby-throated hummingbird eats twice its body weight every day. A full-grown hog, on the other hand, will daily consume about 5 percent of its body weight. Now, who is making a pig of themselves?
Information to help you get started in making your yard a bird sanctuary abounds. In case you were considering purchasing a book on the subject, let me save you $19.95 plus tax. Try this simple approach:
First, put out seeds. Second, wait.
If no birds show up, look around for the cat.
Actually, this is a slight oversimplification. It can take a little while for birds to frequent a new feeder. This is because they have to establish a feeding territory, much like a teenager establishing his parking spot at Sonic. The biggest difference is that what birds leave as a tip is disgusting.
Some experts recommend you start feeding during the first cold spell. It’s also a good time to handle inquisitive cats if you can figure out how to have them lick a cold post.
To get the birds started in a new location, some experts recommend feeding table scraps, such as white bread. Though poor in nutrition, bread does fit in at the top of a bird’s food pyramid, right above seeds and grubs.
As you develop your own flock, you’ll find it cheaper to buy foods in bulk. If so, take care in storing these seeds or you may find yourself with a new hobby . . . mouse feeding Though these critters can be cute enough themselves, they can scare the heck out of you at a window feeder.
Feeders come in all shapes and sizes, including hanging hoppers, thistle feeders and platform feeders. The best choice depends on the type of birds you want to attract, the type of seed you’ll be offering and how fat you want your squirrels.
Some birds, such as doves, also need a supply of grit to grind their food. This grit may be charcoal bits, broken egg shells or small pebbles. It’s easy to spot the birds that overdo it on the pebbles; they tend to fly lower.
To feed grit, put it in a separate container not far from the feeder. Beach sand is an excellent offering, especially with Jimmy Buffet music playing in the background.
In some locations, birds also appreciate water. A shallow bird bath will let them bathe and clean their feathers in cold weather for better insulation. In the summer, the bath lets them cool off and saves a long trip to the pool.
Not all parts of bird feeding go as expected. For instance, predators, such as sharp-shinned hawks, sometimes learn to set up feeding stations and may buzz your feeder on a routine basis. Whether this is good or bad depends on which birds you’re trying to feed.
In the typical neighborhood, the real problem critters are the stray cats. For these felines, birds constitute up to 25 percent of their diet, which is more protein than most of us get on the Atkins diet.
Another common problem is that birds become clumsy and fly into nearby windows. Some experts postulate these birds are bewildered or see their reflections, thereby thinking they are chasing other birds. What I want to know is how anyone has any idea what a bird is thinking? I can’t even do that with most women I know and we’re supposedly the same species.
Birds wanting to bounce off windows can be deterred in a number of ways. You can close the shades, put up a hawk silhouette or hang a giant cat poster.With just a little effort, you can soon have these creatures swarming in your backyard and consuming the other half of South Dakota’s sunflower seed crop. And the next time someone you know offers to help with something when pigs fly, take them up on it. For all practical purposes, they already do.