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Feeding birds

Feeding birds in winter gives them needed nutrition.

As we begin the slide into winter and summer’s bounty recedes, birds welcome the extra nutrition offered by backyard feeders.

When putting out a banquet of supplemental food, high quality is essential, said Dana Sanchez, a wildlife specialist for Oregon State University Extension Service. Mixes with red millet, golden millet, flax seed, rape seed and oats are a waste because birds will just kick those fillers out of the feeder, where they’ll fall on the ground and attract unwanted visitors like rats. They’ll also sprout and grow into undesirable plants.


Put black oil sunflower seeds top on the list because they attract so many different bird species, Sanchez said, including chickadees, black-headed grosbeaks, house sparrows, northern flickers and song sparrows. To enjoy finches, offer their favored nyjer seed, also called thistle seed, in specialized feeders with openings small enough to hold the seed in and perfect for their tiny beaks. Many birds – waxwings, grosbeaks, chickadees and robins – love fruit, which can be put out on elevated platform feeders.


For future bird feasts, plant a native, fruit-bearing tree or shrub. Elderberry, serviceberry, dogwood and snowberry are attractive options that are well-adapted to our region and great sources of fall food for birds.


People enjoy watching woodpeckers going at suet blocks. The fat-and-seed mixtures are best used in fall and winter when birds need the extra energy to keep warm. In warm weather suet goes bad quickly, which is not good for birds. So, if you want to use suet in summer, check it often and remove it as soon as it starts to smell.


Hummingbirds are a class unto themselves. These high-energy birds need a special diet high in sugar. To make your own, use a 4-to-1 ratio of water and sugar. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil for 1 minute. Let it cool and pour into feeder. Don’t use red coloring, Sanchez said, and remember to make only enough nectar for a few days so mold doesn’t become an issue. Colored feeders will attract hummingbirds and once they find it, they’ll be back.


Cleaning all bird feeders once a week is essential. Moisture contributes to mold, which causes diseases transmitted on avian feet after perching on feeders. Discard any feed left in the feeder, scrub inside and out with a long-handled brush – available in different sizes and lengths at bird shops or online – and follow with a rinse of bleach solution at a ratio of 10 parts water, one part bleach. Let it dry thoroughly before filling.


Bird need water, too. Serve it up in a shallow, flat-bottomed bowl with ½ to 1 inch of water. Place it in either sun or shade, clean it often and change the water daily or at least every other day.


Most of all, if you’re going to attract birds to the garden, don’t spray chemicals or use pelletized weed and feed or moss killer.

“We really need to be thinking about what we’re putting on our gardens,” Sanchez said. “We need to be cautious.”