If you do opt to feed the birds, however, all experts agree that you must keep the feeder clean (see “Coming Clean,” below) and provide fresh drinking water and food. Avoid low-quality mixed feed; otherwise, birds will root through it looking for the good stuff and turf everything else on the ground.
Calvor Palmateer, owner of For Wild Birds and Gardeners, in Victoria, has a solution: Put out hulled sunflower seeds, which every bird loves, instead of seed mixes. “If the birds spill a little, just leave the feeder empty for one day until they clean up the ground,” he suggests. Palmateer also recommends hanging a good-quality suet that's high in oily nuts, such as peanuts, sunflower seeds or almonds, and low in cereal grain.
Finally, know the habits of birds in your region. As Wilson points out, some birds are extending their range, and feeding can help them survive. For instance, Northern cardinals are venturing northeast to the Maritimes; the Anna's hummingbird now stays year-round in Victoria and parts of the Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast and some sections of Vancouver.
During particularly brutal winters, a little help from humans might be the one thing that gets these birds through.
While most bird books recommend cleaning your feeder weekly, David Bird, professor of wildlife biology at McGill University in Montreal, says it depends on the feeder. Platform models generally require more frequent cleaning than tube feeders. Use common sense and clean as needed. The ideal solution is one part bleach to nine parts water.
To serve and protect
Naturalists' groups, birding organizations and knowledgeable retailers can help you select the right feeder for your climate, as well as one that will suit the birds you're trying to attract.
Janet Grand, owner of The Bird House Nature Company in Orillia, Ontario, recommends several squirrel- and rodent-proof bird feeders. In her opinion, the best one is the Squirrel Buster, by Brome Bird Care in Quebec. “I can barely keep it in stock,” she says. She also likes the Flipper (which spins if a squirrel tries to climb it), by Droll Yankee Company. And she says the tried-and-true “pole and baffle” method (which blocks squirrels from reaching the feeder) works well, too. Expect to pay $80 and up for a truly rodent-proof feeder.
Project FeederWatch. Co-ordinator, Bird Studies Canada, Box 160, Port Rowan, ON N0E 1M0; 888/448-2473 or 519/586-3531; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bird House Nature Company. 108 Mississaga St. E., Orillia, ON L3V 1V7; 705/329-3939; email@example.com: Squirrel Buster $89.95, Yankee Flipper $159.
Brome Bird Care Inc. 331 Knowlton Rd., Knowlton, QC J0E 1V0. For nearest retailer call 800/856-5685; bromebirdcare.com: Squirrel Buster.
For Wild Birds and Gardeners. 566 Johnson St., Victoria, BC V8W 1M3; 250/661-7575: Squirrel Buster $89.99, Yankee Flipper $189.
Lee Valley Tools Ltd.: Squirrel Buster $82.50.
Ritchie's Feeds 'n Needs & Garden Centre: Yankee Flipper $130.
Rittenhouse Since 1914: Yankee Flipper $135.
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