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Food for the Birds - Catering the Bird Buffet
by Jayne Rushin

Of course, feeding birds makes an important contribution to their well being, but it should be fun for us too. Feeding birds can be as simple or as complicated, as you want to make it.

After deciding to feed birds, you will need to make some menu choices. What do birds like to eat when they come to a feeder? Even though insects make up a large portion of the diet of many birds feeding in backyards, they still have seed preferences. If you want to keep it simple and make the greatest number of birds happy-fill your feeders with sunflower seed.

Research conducted by the US. Fish and Wildlife Service reveals that birds prefer sunflower seed, white proso millet, and niger (thistle) seed. The most popular choice, by the greatest number of species, is sunflower seed. There are several different sunflower seeds: black oil-seed, small black striped seed, large gray shelled seed, and a hulled combination of the three. The small black-oil sunflower seed is the recommended choice.

Most mixed seed combinations include red millet along with other filler seeds and hulls, which will be wasted and discarded by birds. It is important to note that some of the ingredients in mixed feeds like milo attract starlings and other undesirable birds.

Mourning Doves, White-throated Sparrows, and other ground feeders will dine happily on scattered sunflower seed, but if you want to throw special feed for them, white proso millet is the best choice. Niger (thistle) is a very small seed not related to the thistle of our fields and roadsides. Thistle needs a feeder with tiny openings, which will accommodate the very slender bills of birds such as the American Goldfinch and Pine Siskin. However, if you do not want to go to the expense of putting out niger (thistle), Goldfinches are very happy with sunflower seed.

Black-oil sunflower seed, niger (thistle), and white proso millet are available at most specialty bird supply, grocery, feed, or home improvement stores. If you cannot find proso millet, feed and seed stores can special order it for you.

There are a couple of special feeding options to consider. Suet can be put out at anytime of the year, but in the winter when the natural food supply is limited, it will be appreciated by birds looking for extra carbohydrates and protein. Commercial suet cakes are available, but a homemade concoction is simple to prepare.

Suet Recipe - Mix together thoroughly
1 cup melted shortening
1 cup peanut butter
4 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour

Birds seem to prefer homemade suet recipes, which are usually made with more nutritious ingredients than commercial products. Suet feeders are available in the marketplace, but an old pie pan works well. Suet also can be stuffed into holes drilled into a piece of wood, such as a cedar log. When feeding suet in the summer, put out only a day's supply, since it grows rancid very quickly in warm weather.

Apple, orange, banana, and other fruits are another feeding option. Some woodpeckers and tropical migrants will be delighted with fresh fruit or raisins.

After inviting birds into your yard by erecting and filling feeders, do not be discouraged if they don't show-up immediately. Usually, it takes time for the birds to arrive, but they will come if you give them a chance to discover your feeding station. Often people begin by feeding birds only during the winter months but eventually maintain feeders year round. Whatever the season, it is always fun to look out the window to see who is visiting your feeder.

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