How to - Wildlife

Awake your winter garden with a birdfeeder

Chase away winter-blah days with a simple birdfeeder that kids can make.

Never mind that your perennials are fast asleep. You and your children can chase away those colourless winter-blah days by livening up your garden with a simple birdfeeder. In their own way, winter birds are as beautiful as spring and summer flowers.

Most kids enjoy watching birds, and they especially enjoy making feeders, then filling their creations with seeds. Just be sure to place your feeder where you can enjoy it from a window. A hard-to-see feeder can easily be forgotten, which is less fun for your kids and unfair to the birds because you forget to refill it. If possible, place it near small bushes to offer birds places to hide in times of danger. Don't be discouraged if birds don't find your feeder right away. Once they do, they'll visit regularly. Continue to feed the birds until May when insects emerge and some fruit and seeds begin to mature, providing food for your feathered friends.

Here are a few more tips: Always watch birds from a distance; they're easily frightened away. To get a closer look, let your kids use inexpensive binoculars. For added fun, purchase a disposable camera so kids can photograph the birds in your yard. Later they can make a picture album to show relatives and friends.

Seeds birds love
Following is a list of seeds commonly set out for birds. The list includes examples of the birds each seed is likely to attract.

Sunflower seeds Most birds choose sunflower seeds over all other treats, whether dispensed from hanging or platform feeders. (And so do squirrels, as you'll soon find out if you hang a sunflower-seed feeder in or near a tree.) Both the striped and black-oil varieties offer similar food value, but chickadees, nuthatches and finches, for example, find the striped kind difficult to crack. Black-oil sunflower seeds have thinner hulls, which most birds can easily shell. Another minus for the striped type: their discarded hulls take longer to biodegrade.

Cracked corn The least expensive birdseed, cracked corn happily satisfies most wild birds; finches are a notable exception. Squirrels and pigeons also eat cracked corn, a positive or a negative depending on your outlook. Pour cracked corn into platform feeders or scatter it over the ground.

Millet Sparrows and junkets love tiny red, golden or white millet seeds, though they favour the white variety. Since both birds prefer eating on or near the ground, scatter millet there, near bushes and trees for safe refuge.

Niger This favourite of goldfinches is the most expensive seed, usually poured into special feeders with holes too small for all but fine-billed goldfinches, redpolls and pine siskins. Chickadees and mourning doves also love niger seed and sometimes learn to knock on a feeder until the seeds fall out the holes onto the tray.

Peanuts In-the-know blue jays greedily accept unshelled peanuts, weighing each one and then taking the heaviest ones first. To educate the uninitiated, leave a few partially opened peanuts in the feeder. Blue jays catch on quickly. Get them hooked and they come back often.

Suet While not a seed, in winter chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays enjoy suet for needed extra calories. Place raw suet in onion bags and nail onto a piece of wood tied to the side of a tree. You can also melt suet in a double boiler and mix in seeds, honey and corn meal. One caution: suet turns rancid quickly when temperatures go above freezing, possibly poisoning birds. Replace suet as needed until spring.

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