January 12

Songbirds brighten up winter

The right feeder – and feed – can attract them to your yard.

By Kathy Van Mullekom
McClatchy Newspapers

There’s nothing better than watching songbirds at feeders during winter’s dreary months.

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Feeders for suet, peanuts and assorted seeds hang on a feeding station made from a 4-by-4 post and hooks.

McClatchy Newspapers

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A black-capped chickadee tucks in at a suet holder hanging from a tree.

McClatchy Newspapers

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FOR FEEDERS on four hooks, consider a caged suet feeder, Duncraft caged peanut feeder and Droll Yankees caged domed feeders with large tubes so you don’t have to fill them so often. Plastic domes on feeders help shield them from rain; you may want to consider taking in feeders during prolonged, heavy rains to prevent costly seed from molding.

FOR SEEDS, sunflower will get you tons of beautiful birds, but it may also attract blackbirds and obnoxious crows that tend to live near waterways. Cole’s offers special blends that include sunflower meats, fruits and assorted nuts; Cole’s seeds – www.coleswildbird.com – are sold at specialty wildlife stores and garden centers nationwide.

IN ADDITION to the feeding station, consider specialty feeders such as a finch feeder with thistle seed, bluebird feeder with dried mealworms and platform feeders with safflower seed, which squirrels and nuisance birds tend to leave alone. Look for feeders that are easy to clean, such as the Droll Yankees feeders, which have a metal rod that you pull to remove the ports for easy cleaning. Feeders should routinely be cleaned with a splash of bleach added to soap and water, then thoroughly rinsed and dried before refilling.




1 square treated post, 4-by-4, 10 feet long

1 bag quick-set concrete



Raccoon/squirrel baffle with 4-inch-square opening

4 hooks, each about 12 inches long (consider vinyl-coated hooks, not just painted versions, for durability); choose hangers that set out far enough to accommodate width of feeders

Decorative treated cap for post top

Post hole digger

4 birdfeeders


USE A post-hole digger to create a hole about 24 inches deep. Place treated post in hole, pour in concrete mixed with water according to directions on bag.

AS CONCRETE SETS, adjust post and use level to ensure the post is straight on all sides.

ALLOW POST to set a couple days before installing baffle and then attaching hangers (use long screws for stability). Place decorative cap on post top; fill and hang feeders.



1 cup smooth peanut butter

1 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup white flour, not self-rising

3 cups yellow cornmeal, not self-rising

Mix ingredients together thoroughly and place in a suet log (small log with holes drilled in it) or simply smear the paste on the trunk of tree, branch, post of other solid object where birds can easily find and reach it. Store unused suet in closed container in refrigerator until needed.

— National Audubon Society; www.audubon.org

Cardinals in ruby red coats, woodpeckers in black-and-white tuxedos and bluebirds in royal finery brighten the grayest day.

“The frequent visitors to our feeders quickly become old friends – the same birds come every day, all day,” says Shirley Devan, outgoing president of the Williamsburg Bird Club – www.williamsburgbirdclub.org – in southeastern Virginia.

“I quickly learn who likes to eat seeds on the ground, who likes the seed feeders, who likes the suet feeders. Birds always surprise me. The red-bellied woodpecker likes the seed feeder more than the suet. The brown thrasher prefers suet. ‘My’ hermit thrush usually just sips water. I have a pair of downy woodpeckers – male and female. I like to think they nest in my neighborhood in spring and summer.”

Bird feeders for a home-based habitat are a personal choice.

Williamsburg birder Martha Wren Briggs says commercial feeders aren’t necessary because birds are tree or ground feeders, and each type eats bread and seeds tossed on the ground, or put in a flat dish. Fresh water is important even in winter and is best provided in a shallow dish, such as a large flat saucer used under large planters, because birds dislike a deep birdbath, she advises.

“Use your imagination to feed your tree-dining friends,” she says.

“The easiest way to serve fat trimmings from meats, suet or a peanut butter and cornmeal mixture is to simply rub it in the bark of a tree. Tree feeders will shimmy down the tree and peck away at the delicious treat.

“Wrens are curious birds. Place an almost empty peanut butter jar on the ground, and wrens will go in and out, taking a nibble each time.”

If you opt for traditional feeders, squirrels and raccoons may raid your seed supply, so baffle deterrents are your best friend. If blackbirds swarm your surroundings, caged feeders help keep bully birds and squirrels at bay; when you choose caged feeders, make sure the cages are large enough to prevent wanted critters from reaching in to grab goodies.

Even the posts that support feeders are important parts of the pastime. Wrought-iron poles with hooks for hanging feeders are attractive, but often they lean and fall in soft, wet soil. Feeders hung on trees are highly susceptible to predators taking advantage of the situation.

No matter how many or what style bird feeders you choose to use, there is one all-important aspect to remember – enjoy the sights and sounds of your feathered friends. They will probably stick around and nest in your yard, turning your environment into a healthy, happy habitat.


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Additional Photos

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Birds will eat bread and seeds tossed on the ground or put in a flat dish, if you’d rather not go the feeder route.



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