Attracting Birds

Q. I just love the little White-throated Sparrows and Juncos. What do they like to eat?

These two native sparrows are among the easiest birds to keep happy. They love white proso millet spread on a flat surface. A nice tray feeder low to the ground helps keep the seed dry but the sparrows are perfectly happy eating right off of the ground. See also new Ground Throw Mix.

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Q. Where have all of my woodpeckers gone? (FALL 2008)

As I almost always do with this kind of question, I look to what kind of summer we have had and what the natural food supply is like going into winter. The cool, wet summer has really produced a bountiful natural food supply and birds are reacting to that. Many woodpeckers, especially Red-headed's are driven by acorn supplies and will sometimes concentrate in areas where they are heavy. Rest assured that when times get tougher (low temperatures, ice, snow) they will be at your feeders just as often as any year.

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Q. My dad is convinced the cheap bag of bird seed he gets at the grocery store is perfectly fine for his birds. He is on a limited budget, what can I tell him? (FALL 2009)

Plain and simple, it really is expectations. The “cheap” birdseed blends are filled with fillers like milo, cracked corn, wheat, sticks, stems, rocks and who knows what else. If he is OK with feeding hordes of House Sparrows, grackle and Mourning Doves then the cheap mixes are probably fine. If he wants to attract cardinals, chickadees, flickers and other beautiful birds then he will do far better with quality seed. A 50lb bag of Black Oil Sunflower (the favorite seed of more birds than any other) is (check for current price). I can’t imagine a bag of the “cheep” seed costing much less.

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Q. Can I use an extension cord with my bird bath de-icer?

Yes. I have been using an extension cord (generally a 50 ft. one) with my de-icers for 15 years and have never had a problem with them. I do have to get a little creative with my lawn chair placement to keep my chew happy Black Lab from getting to it. The most important safety precaution is to make sure it is plugged into a groundfault outlet.

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Q. I read that you should save up your dryer lint and put it out for the birds for nesting material.

No. Do not place dryer lint out for the birds. I know that several publications a few years ago put this out as a way to help birds and Ornithologist have been trying to undo this damage ever since. The fear is that the small dust that is present in lint will be dangerous for the hatchling’s lungs. We have many good alternatives here at the store. Nesting material wreaths, bells and cages can be filled over and over again with various refill packs that contain a mixture of strings, feathers, cotton, etc.

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Q. Why can’t I get the hummingbirds I see in the spring to stick around for the summer?

In the spring it is all about set up territories and finding a suitable place for a nest. If you have birds at your feeders in the spring but not during the early summer it usually means the females didn’t find the nesting conditions she wanted in your “yard”. Don’t feel bad, most of us do not have nesting hummers. The good news is the easiest time to attract them to your yard in the late summer. The more dedicated you are to your flowers and landscaping in the spring will pay dividends later.

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Q. I keep seeing commercials for a bird seed that is supposed to attract pretty birds. Is their’s any different than your blend?

Other than being twice as expensive as our house blend, there is very little difference. I always say that a sunflower is a sunflower no matter what color the bag is. A customer brought in one of these expensive bags of seed recently and here is what I found. They include four seeds that I would never use in my premium general seeds (white millet, red millet and canary seed and nyjer). I do use millet in my ground mixes to take care of the sparrows, dove and blackbirds. Canary seed, I do not use at all and nyjer is a finch seed that should be limited to use in finch feeders.

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Q. Is it true that feeding the raccoon and deer is a bad idea?

It is definitely true. The Missouri Department of Conservation recommends that you do not intentionally feed critters such as raccoon and deer. There are many reasons but the picture here should illustrate the point well. One little masked bandit is cute but 17 are nothing but trouble. What do they do when the free food runs out? Trash cans, dog bowls, grill covers, anything that smell remotely like food is fair game. On top of all that, don’t forget that raccoons can carry rabies and distemper.

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