Water... it’s for the birdsNaturalist says water is most important commodity for birds in the winter
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Skip the cheap stuff.
That’s what Cari Nicely, Henry County naturalist, told about 40 people Sunday at a winter bird-feeding program, hosted by her and Trent Hoekstra, ranger/naturalist, at the Oakland Mills Nature Center.
“Inexpensive wild bird mixes are full of filler,” Nicely told the attendees. “It has filler like milo that ends up on the ground. Even more expensive mixes are picked through by birds for their favorites (food).”
Nicely said birds, much like most other living beings, need four things for survival — food, water, shelter and space. “Birds need room to do their own thing,” she said, expanding on the last requirement for survival.
Food, however, is not the most important of the four necessities for birds in the winter. Water, she said, tops the list. “What’s more important than food in the winter is water. Birdbath heaters are good to have during the winter and sold at most locations that sell (bird) feed. Water keeps the birds warm, and you can attract more birds with water than feed.”
Moving the discussion back to food, Nicely said that while seed varies in price, there will be less waste if more expensive feed is placed in the feeders, “and you will come out at least even at the end.”
The naturalist emphasized choosing a single feed type for each feeder with different food in each of the feeders.
Black oil sunflower, she said, is the most attractive food for the widest variety of birds while finches are fond of thistle seed. Doves prefer cracked corn and blue jays like peanuts. Woodpeckers and nuthatches enjoy dining on suet, a high-energy food. Sunflower hearts and safflower seeds and mealworms are other popular types of food.
Different types of feeders also work better for selected bird species. She said upside down feeders work great for finches and nigers.
For cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, sparrows and blackbirds a table or tray feeder is best. The table or tray also works best for doves, quail and turkeys.
Another important factor is placement of the feeder, Nicely noted. “You need a cover around the feeder because all food goes into the bird’s crop. They gobble down what they can at the feeder and then go to a protected area to digest the food. If you have a feeder in the middle of a yard, you might get a few birds, but you will get a lot more if a feeder is near bushes or trees... Shelter also protects birds from rain, snow and heat.”
Another important thing to keep in mind is to put feeders on poles with baffles to keep away the squirrels. Separate feeders and food should be put out for squirrels, she said.
The naturalist said that it is important to clean feeders. “If you don’t clean the inside of the feeder, mold will develop and kill the birds. Also, clean off the platform feeders with bleach before re-filling. It is also important to not allow large amounts of feed to become wet in the platform.”
The winter-feeding cast of birds includes chickadees, junco, cardinals, finches, nuthatches, woodpeckers (seven different kinds in Iowa), blue jays, gold finches, mourning doves, tree sparrows, house sparrows, grackle and starling.
Following the power-point presentation, six people were chosen through a raffle to make a bird feeder to take home with them.
The free program was sponsored by Ralph and Helen See, of Mt. Pleasant.