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Tips for feeding the birds during the winter months
URBANA, Ill. — Feeding the birds during the winter involves more than just tossing a lot of seed out on the ground, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“Once you start feeding the birds, you need to feed the entire winter and early spring,” James Schuster said. “Inviting birds to your yard for dinner can be very rewarding. Buying birdseed with a variety of seeds can draw a wide range of birds. If you want to be more selective, narrow the food options.”

Schuster notes that peanut butter when mixed with melted suet or yellow corn meal will attract flickers, hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, blue jays, chickadees, tree sparrows, fox sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, red-breasted nuthatches, brown creepers, robins, juncos, redpolls, and towhees.

“White millet is preferred by birds over red millet,” he said. “Birds that like millet include purple finches, redpolls, pine siskins, pheasants, juncos, most sparrows, starlings, towhees, and mourning doves.”

Sunflower seeds and screenings will attract cardinals, tufted titmouses, purple finches, chickadees, goldfinches, tree sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, red-breasted nuthatches, pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, blackbirds, juncos, and blue jays.

“Migratory birds such as towhees, Harris’s sparrows, white-throated sparrows, fox sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, and rose-breasted grosbeak like sunflowers, too,” he added.

Cardinals, pheasants, blue jays, and blackbirds enjoy corn whether it is on the cob, whole kernel, or cracked. Robins, thrashers, catbirds, waxwings, and cardinals like raisins.

White bread pieces are a favorite with pheasants, blue jays, chickadees, brown creepers, mocking birds, robins, starlings, grackles, juncos, cardinals, and most sparrows.

“All the birds need grit - gravel or stones, the size depends on the bird - to help grind up the seeds,” he added.

There can be a downside to feeding the birds, depending upon personal tolerance.

“Squirrels and mice will also be attracted to the seeds,” he said. “The squirrels will often raid the feeder while mice often feed on the uneaten dropped seed. Bird seed dropped on the ground can cause unwanted plants to start growing the following summer.” By mid-spring, it is time to start weaning the birds off the seeds, he noted.

“The birds will become dependent on your feeding them once they find your feeder,” said Schuster. “It is harmful to the birds you are feeding to just stop feeding them, especially if it is still adverse weather.

“The birds need to be slowly weaned from your feeding and forced to start hunting for food found in more natural settings to avoid some birds starving to death.”

Published in the January 4, 2006 issue of Farm World.

1/4/2006