winter-feeder

How To Choose The Right Bird Seed and Protect Birds From Predators

Hello, fellow birders and wild bird fans. Welcome to the second installment of our Wild Bird blog! We are wild about birds and, like you, want to see them thrive and visit our feeders for years to come.

In an earlier blog post, called “How to Choose the Right Bird Feeder”, we discussed how to choose the right bird feeder. In this article we will discuss:

  • FEED: seed choices, watering, and suet
  • PREDATORS: types and strategies to discourage them at your feeding stations
  • PESTS: strategies to deal with our furry friends

I. Feed

Seed Choices

blue seal ultraclean black oil sunflower bird feedchoose bird seed BSF567All seed mixes are not created equal. National brands are formulated for a national audience of birds. However, the formulations in the Blue Seal Bird Seed that Koopman Lumber offers are created for New England and Northeastern birds. When these feeds are made, Blue Seal makes sure that nothing in the formula will go to waste. Each bag of Blue Seal seed notes the species of wild bird that the seed will attract, which makes choosing a formulation easy! Better quality seed mixes include a generous portion of black oil sunflower seeds, white millet, sunflower seed hearts or chips and other nuts. Ultra Clean Black Oil Bird Seed is washed three times to ensure it is clean and healthy for your birds. A wide variety of birds enjoy this type of seed.

Koopman Lumber is also proud to sell Cole’s bird seed. Just like Blue Seal, these feeds are manufactured to the taste of our regional bird friends, but Cole’s seeds aren’t just for the delight of the birds. Cole’s makes some hot products, seriously hot in fact. Hot Pepper seed (and oil) is a favorite of birds, who’s body does not process capsaicin the same way mammals do. Capsaicin, for the curious, is that special ingredient that makes peppers spicy. Birds can’t feel the spice like we can, so they chomp away delightedly while squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals that might steal your birds food get a spicy surprise when they go in for a snack. This harmless effect is a great way to deter unwanted diners from your yard while ensuring the birds really do enjoy their food!

Watering

eabl-noca_8884-238cIn the spring, summer, and fall, birdbaths are excellent places for birds to both drink and bathe. In the winter, however, they need to be emptied, which eliminates a water source for birds. Certainly providing water in the winter is more challenging, but it can be done and the effort will help the birds save energy they would need to expend looking for water. Melted snow provides a disappointing quantity of water and it takes more energy for birds to continuously scoop snow than to drink water.

For a water holder, we suggest a taking a shallow, black, rubber container and placing small rocks inside of it. This setup allows birds to hop onto the rocks and dip for a drink. The container’s black color will absorb warmth when located in a sunny spot. This will prevent the water from freezing for a surprisingly long time.  One last word of advice on this topic: do not put a water heater in this type of container.

Suet

blue-seal-high-energy-suetSuet is raw energy in the form of fat. There are many suet flavors, including fruit and seed ingredients. Although wild birds don’t get all of their nutrition at your feeding station(s), it is still important to supply a nutritionally diverse ration. The Blue Seal Bird Seed that Koopman offers has a variety of formulations designed for nutrient support. Suet is a great way to help wild birds reach their energy requirements year round, and this is especially important in the cold winter months.

If you’re wondering what type of feeder to get, it depends on what birds you are looking to attract. For example, woodpeckers such as the Downy, Hairy and Red Headed (among others) all enjoy wire suet feeders because they allow for upside down perching, which is their instinctive style of feeding, in addition to being a lot of fun to observe! If you’re not sure, just stop by a Koopman Lumber location or give us a call and one of our staff would be happy to give you some tips!

II. Predators

Predators are an important topic of discussion. It can be surprising how many predators thrive on birds as part of the menu. Even though this is a natural part of the food chain, we can discourage predators by taking some precautions with the type and location of our feeders.

Let’s start off with a general list of predators beginning with other birds which we will call “birds of prey”. This includes Hawks, Owls, Kestrels, Eagles, and others. Depending on where you live, there may be even more. Locating a feeder near thorny bushes such as Barberry or Holly can help to discourage these predators. Small birds can easily hide within the branches while larger birds cannot.

Unfortunately, even your loving family dog or cat can see wild birds as an irresistible snack. Faster than you will have time to intervene, your house pets can spring into action and be enjoying a feathery feast!

Domestic cats in particular find endless challenge in hunting wild bird, which is completely natural for them. Obviously, the best protection against your cat devouring a wild bird visitor is to keep your cat inside at all times. If they must go outdoors, do not leave them unsupervised, and do not allow them outside during early morning or other peak bird feeding times. You can also use collar bells to warn birds of a cat’s approach. If using a pole-mounted feeder, plastic or metal poles will prevent cats being able to use their claws to climb the feeder.

III. Pests

It can be frustrating how easily an animal with a brain the size of the end of your pinky finger – a squirrel or chipmunk – can outwit you at the bird feeder. If you are seeing more squirrels than birds at your feeder, it’s time to consider some new strategies. It can help to consider your feeding stations from the squirrel’s point of view. These creatures spend all day looking for forage in the trees, all the while burning a lot of energy.  Your feeder allows squirrels and chipmunks an opportunity to stock up without using calories – jackpot! They also enjoy chewing on wood and plastic, which makes a solid argument for purchasing a metal feeder.

Perch feeder from Droll Yankees®

Perch feeder from Droll Yankee®

There are several bird feeder styles available that can help. Koopman Lumber carries a metal squirrel proof feeder made by Droll Yankee. This feeder uses the squirrels’ own weight to clamp shut the feed openings, which is a highly effective deterrent.  Installing a squirrel baffle is also an effective way to keep these furry seed thieves off of your pole-mounted or hanging feeder as long as there aren’t any other nearby objects that a squirrel can jump from.

Positioning the feeder is also a key to success. Squirrels are quite accomplished leapers. They are able to jump 4 feet straight up and 8-10 feet across to land on a surprisingly small target. Stringing a wire between two trees that lack low branches can be effective, as long as the feeders are more than 4 feet off the ground.

If you are feeling bad that the squirrels and chipmunks might go hungry, remember that they are very effective foragers. Also, they will clean up any seed or nuts the birds have dropped from the feeder, which will discourage mice.

As mentioned before, a hot or spicy seed blend is another great way to deter these little pests in a relatively harmless fashion. The squirrels will be uncomfortable for a little bit, but there is no lasting harm and they will be trained NOT to seek food from your feeders.

Summary

Now you are ready to start enjoying attracting and feeding wild birds on your own property! We hope this blog has been helpful and informative. At Koopman, we are enthusiastic about feedback and would appreciate your comments about this blog and your results using the tips and techniques shared here. Thank you for reading and happy birding!