For the Birds Radio Program: Bird Feeding

Original Air Date: Nov. 1, 1995

Today Laura Erickson gives some tips about bird feeding. (3:54) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


This is the time of year when people take a renewed interest in bird feeding. All my feeders are going before September rolls around, so I can enjoy sparrows, including Harris’s and White-crowns, and other migrants. Some people prefer waiting for cold weather, reluctant to make birds dependent. I wonder whether a person’s willingness to feed birds during summer and early fall predicts where that person falls on the liberal-conservative political spectrum. It would make an interesting study.

Anyway, cold weather has arrived. The migrants along the north shore of Lake Superior for the past few weeks have been juncoes, also known as snowbirds, and Gray Jays and Boreal Chickadees. Northern finches are moving, from crossbills to Pine Grosbeaks, as are Bohemian Waxwings and Northern Shrikes. So if you’re into bird feeding, it’s time to get cracking.

The best seed to use year-round is black-oil sunflower. Finches, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and even Nature’s Perfect Bird, the Blue Jay, all eat sunflower. In tropical Minneapolis, St. Cloud, and Hayward, cardinals also eat sunflower. And in the woods, like at my mother-in-law’s feeder, Ruffed Grouse come to sunflower seed, too, making an interesting spectacle as they lurch up into a feeder. Bears and raccoons are also fond of it, so some people bring in their feeders at night until the big animals have disappeared. Squirrels are with us year-round, cheering or distressing feeder owners. The manner in which people deal with squirrels at their feeders may also indicate something about their politics—it’s hard to say.

Cheap grocery store seed mixes contain too much red millet, which goes pretty much uneaten and wasted in the Midwest. But I buy white millet to attract bazillions of sparrows and juncoes during migration. I scatter it under my big spruce tree, next to my kids’ sandbox, and around some shrubbery, and the ground sometimes teems with birds. Niger seed, which some people call thistle, is great for goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls, but so far this fall, I haven’t had any to speak of. Corn is appreciated by jays, squirrels, some sparrows, and deer.

Suet is important for birds requiring animal fat in their diets, like chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Some Blue Jays get a taste for suet, and when starlings discover a suet feeder they can be obnoxious. This year Gray Jays are on the move. They’re the biggest suet lovers of all. They don’t bother with dainty suet cakes—they want big chunks of raw suet. They carry off whole pieces of it, and once they figure out your feeding routine, they can clean out a feeder in minutes each morning.

Peanut butter is an excellent feeder offering. If you live near spruce woods, this should be the year to attract Boreal Chickadees. Some people have luck getting this somber little chickadee to suet, but the ones in my yard have always preferred peanut butter. I scoop and press chunks of it into the drilled holes of a hanging birch-branch feeder.

There are dozens of kinds of food you can offer at a bird feeder. These are just some of the possibilities. If you have a special feeder food that has brought you interesting birds, let us know. Send us a note to “For the Birds” at KUMD, the University of Duluth, 55812.