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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis

Special Events

Field notes from the President

In this brave new world of social distancing, feeding birds in your backyard creates vistas you’ll never see on-screen and a connection with the natural world that doesn’t rely on bandwidth or gigabytes. Once you say, “Yes,” begin by organizing your backyard to be bird-friendly and then select the appropriate feeders and seed.

Who’s likely to book your Airbnb?

In the middle of the country, Nebraska hosts approximately 400 species of birds (a medium number) winging their way across the state. Knowing which species you’re likely to see in any given season can help you dress your yard for success.

Plan your work and work your plan

Assessing the layout of your yard is the first step to successful bird feeding. The kinds of plants you have and where they’re located can draw birds to your yard and afford them protection while they’re feeding. It’s especially important to provide plants that allow birds to retreat from feeding areas when they feel threatened. Also, is a water source nearby? A ready water source, especially in the winter months, can prove even more important than food.

Place feeders at least 5 feet away from windows to avoid collisions, which kill millions of birds annually. Consider applying preventive window strike decals or other decorations in front of any windows that pose a threat to birds. 

Discourage squirrels by mounting tube feeders on poles that are at least 5 feet tall. Hang the feeders away from adjacent shrubs and trees. Place cone-shaped baffles measuring a minimum of 17 inches in length on the poles below your feeders. Providing squirrels with a separate feeder — away from your bird feeders — filled with cheaper mixes for squirrels may prevent them from pilfering the more expensive seed mixes you prefer for birds.

And, please, please keep cats indoors. Cats kill hundreds of millions of birds yearly, often hunting ground-feeding birds or birds dazed by window strikes. Cats are especially dangerous to birds in the spring breeding season, when fledglings are on the ground.

What’s on the menu?

Different species of birds feed in different ways. Providing both flat and elevated tube feeders will create opportunities for you to see the greatest possible variety of bird species in our area. When it comes to seed, hulled sunflower seeds are the most popular item on the menu for the largest number of species. Remember that small birds prefer a mix of whole and smaller pieces because it can be difficult for them to eat large, whole sunflower kernels. Remember, too, that even though they are cheaper, sunflower seeds in shells will leave a residue of hulls below the feeders. Hulled sunflowers will leave only scattered seeds, which are eaten quickly by ground-feeding birds. If you choose to feed black nyger or thistle seed, which is often recommended for finches, the finches will continue to eat hulled sunflower seeds first, because that’s what they prefer. And if you choose safflower, which is sometimes recommended because squirrels won’t eat it, remember that birds won’t eat it either if they find hulled sunflower seeds nearby. Also, avoid inexpensive seed mixtures that contain milo, wheat and oats because birds will pick out the sunflower seeds and ignore the cheap fillers.

Limit suet feeding to the fall and winter months because suet becomes rancid quickly and will melt and drip out of feeders in the warmer months. Mixing equal parts cornmeal and peanut butter is a good alternative for warmer weather; it will last longer in a feeder and remain solid without melting. In addition to attracting Woodpeckers and Chickadees, this mixture will also draw migrating Warblers to your table in the spring.

Fruit eaters, such as Robins, Waxwings, Bluebirds, Orioles and Tanagers, rarely eat seed and can be attracted with currants and raisins rehydrated and placed on flat feeders. Baltimore Orioles, in particular, love grape jelly and orange halves to supplement their insect diets. Try providing Tanagers with orange halves, too. Fill Hummingbird feeders with nectar in early May, along with grape jelly for the Orioles. Avoid commercial nectar mixes — make your own without red dye by adding one part sugar to four parts water. Wash nectar and grape jelly feeders every couple of days to combat mold growth in warm weather.

Keep it clean

Store your seed in a cool, dry area in metal containers lined with clean plastic bags. Fifty pounds of seed fit perfectly in a 30-gallon galvanized trashcan. However, do not store the same seed for more than one winter, because mold may grow.

Buy only feeders that you can take apart easily and clean frequently and thoroughly. Use dish detergent and a bottlebrush to clean vigorously. After cleaning, soak in a bucket filled with a 10 percent solution of non-chlorine bleach. Rinse, and then dry in the sun.

Want to learn more?

Visit audubon.org to discover more about The National Audubon Society’s guide to bird feeders, birdseed and bird feeding. Of course, you’ll also find great general birding tips, too. Find links to this information on our website, audubon-omaha.com in the NEWS section on the home page.

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