For the Birds Radio Program: Feeding Birds

Original Air Date: Nov. 18, 1987

Recast from 12/12/1986

Audio missing


Re-recorded for 1987-11-18 (Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

The bird business is booming. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 1980 alone Americans spent over $15 billion for birdwatching, bird photography, and bird feeding. But bird feeding was unheard of in colonial times. Farmers would never have dreamed of watching the fruits of their labors be devoured by birds.

In the early 19th century, John James Audubon noted that a few pepople were actually setting out food for birds–mostly city dwellers removed from the rigors of farm life. And Henry David Thoreau used corn and bread crumbs to attract birds and mammals to Walden Pond in 1845. But it wasn’t until the turn of the century, as the conservation movement gained momentum, that any significant interest developed in feeding birds.

Now bird feeding has developed into an art. Around here, most people who feed birds direct their ingenuity to the task of developing the perfect squirrel baffle. Some feeders look like Rube Goldberg inventions with metal cones, pizza pans, plastic strips, and all kinds of clever devices which would certainly scare off lesser creatures, but squirrels are not only bright, they also seem to take special delight in tackling the most elaborate squirrel-proofing known to mankind. I’ve seen squirrels placidly pigging out atop feeders with devices so forbidding that even a starving chickadee would steer clear. I’m partial to squirrels so I’ve never joined in the quest for the perfect anti-squirrel device, but if any listeners would like to share ideas that work, please send them to me.

If you want to attract lots of birds with a minimum of starlings and House Sparrows, set out sunflower seed on a platform feeder. Most Evening Grosbeaks are too scared to sit under a roofed feeder, and many other species also prefer a simple tray. The only problem is you have to go out after a snowstorm and clear the snow off.

If you already set out sunflower seed and want to try something new, try cracked corn. It brings in lots of ground feeders like juncoes and native American sparrows, as well as that most splendid bird of all, the Blue Jay. Of course, those Port Wing Blue Jay Haters I hear from now and then are working hard at developing the perfect Blue Jay baffle, but jays are even harder to discourage than squirrels.

Chickadees love peanut butter. Last winter I kept a few spoonfuls in a cheap plastic bowl set on the feeder. Not only did I have the happiest chickadees in the neighborhood, I also kept three Boreal Chickadees in my yard all season. Suet is another good choice–it attracts woodpeckers, and whenever a late warbler turns up, it invariably is found at a suet feeder.

If you don’t already have a feeder, why don’t you make this the year you start one? You won’t regret it.

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