For the Birds Radio Program: Attracting Birds in Spring

Original Air Date: March 30, 1989

Today Laura Erickson gives some hints on how to attract more birds to your yard. (4:05)

Audio missing


(Recording of a Common Redpoll)

Last week I received a nice letter from Rick and Carolyn Lichty of Duluth, who asked me for information on how to draw unusual birds to their feeders. The two times of year that the most and the rarest birds generally show up at feeders are during spring and fall migrations, so this is an excellent time to be improving your feeding station.

People who have just one roofed bird feeder filled with grocery store seed mixes usually attract House Sparrows but not much else. Those seed mixes have an important place in a big feeding station, but if you have only one or two feeders, your wisest choice is sunflower seed. Some people swear by the black oil-type seed, others by the striped variety. The black type is more often available in 50-pound bags, and so it’s the one I always use. Sunflower attracts a huge variety of birds, especially chickadees, nuthatches, finches, grosbeaks, and native American sparrows and juncoes, and has the added benefit that starlings can’t open the shells. so they stay out of my feeders. Some books say that House Sparrows can’t open them either, but I managed to attract a flock of about 30 this winter that do just fine.

Sunflower seed also attract squirrels. Having an abundance of squirrels around in turn attracts an occasional owl, so I pretty much leave the squirrels be. I have three sunflower seed feeders going all the time, so there’s usually at least one open to the birds all the time. Rare birds that are attracted to sunflower include cardinals, though I’ve yet to see one of those in my yard.

Cracked corn is another excellent offering. Wayne and Donna Kegel of Spooner managed to pull in a Varied Thrush this year to their cracked corn feeder, which is an unroofed bench-type feeder close to the ground. Juncoes, American sparrows, Blue Jays, and, in the country, Ruffed Grouse, also like cracked corn.

Mixed seed is fine for many ground-feeding birds, like Mourning Doves, sparrows, juncoes, and blackbirds. It is most effective placed on a feeder near the ground.

Suet works well for attracting woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, and other insect-eating birds. Two winters ago, when Gray Jays invaded Duluth, two of these Whiskey Jacks came to my suet every day. When warblers are reported at feeders, they’re usually eating suet. The main problem with it is that starlings love it, and they usually come in gangs.

Planting berry bushes and trees provides both food and cover for interesting birds. Mountain ash is certainly effective for bringing in fall robins and winter Bohemian Waxwings. Crab apple, buckthorn, and dogwood are other excellent choices. Jewelweed attracts hummingbirds in fall.

The second or third week of May, hang out orange halves for the orioles. They always seem to appear the very day that I set out my oranges, which makes sense since they’re attracted to the color orange. They also like grape jelly and sugar water, which also work well for attracting catbirds, brown thrashers, hummingbirds, and Downy Woodpeckers. I’ve had many Cape May Warblers at my oranges and jelly in May.

To keep birds in your area throughout the summer, you might also want to set out cotton batting and short lengths of yarn for nesting materials, and bird houses for the nests themselves.

For more information about attracting birds, consult John V. Dennis’s book, A Complete Guide to Bird Feeding. The Minnesota DNR sells a book called Woodworking for Wildlife, with plans for building a wide variety of nest boxes.

(Recording of a Common Redpoll)

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