For the Birds Radio Program: Bird Feeder Winter Contest

Original Air Date: Dec. 30, 1988

Today Laura Erickson announces a new contest–to see who can attract the most birds to a northland feeder. (3:35) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

This year’s Christmas Bird Counters relied heavily on birds at feeders for our totals. Juncoes, White-throated Sparrows, cardinals, and grackles were among the species that were found only at feeders. Some Northern Shrikes, which eat mice and small birds, were counted near feeders, too–shrikes apparently interpret the term “bird feeder” in their own way.

Winter bird feeding is a satisfying hobby for people who stay at home all day. People who work outside of the home don’t get to see their birds much except on weekends this time of year when the days are short, and so many people who work don’t bother with feeding, though to me it’s worth the bother just to see the birds on the weekends.

No matter where you live it’s possible to attract high quality birds to your feeder. This year’s most extraordinary Christmas Bird Count find, a Boreal Owl, was found in Duluth’s Central Hillside neighborhood, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker has been visiting a feeder in Piedmont Heights in Duluth. In older neighborhoods with a lot of energy-inefficient homes House Sparrows and starlings make a steady presence at feeders, but otherwise most feeders within a city have periods of activity and periods of nothing at all. At many country feeders, birds tend to stick around all day–unless a shrike or hawk rips through, my favorite Port Wing Blue Jay Hater’s feeders are always busy.

The best feeders provide lots of variety–from sunflower seeds and seed mixes to peanuts, walnuts, niger or thistle seed, suet, peanut butter, grape jelly, and even Purina Cat Chow, which crows and jays like a lot. Bread isn’t nutritious for most birds, but there is one exception. Man doth not live by bread alone, but some House Sparrows have survived for long periods on nothing but bread–the British Ornithologists’ Union even has records of sparrows feeding their young bread almost exclusively from the time of hatching.

One of the Northland’s best birds, the Pileated Woodpecker, only rarely comes to feeders, but when one starts feeding on suet, it sometimes becomes a habit. If you get Pileateds at your feeder, let us know. As a matter of fact, let us know about all the birds coming to your feeder. For the Birds is beginning this New Year with a new contest—to see who can find the most different species of birds at their feeders. Keep track of your birds between New Year’s Day and February 28. We actually have real prizes this time for the listeners who see the most species in Wisconsin and in Minnesota. You can count any birds you see from your windows, or while you’re in your yard. People who live on the shore of a lake or river will be entered into a separate category to make it fair. As with all birding competitions, this is an exercise in the honor system. If you suspect that a bird at your feeder is rare but you aren’t sure what it is, send a written description or a photo to me and I’ll see if we can’t figure it out. And start keeping your feeder list today.

(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”