Attracting The Winter Birds
( Originally Published 1910 )
IN making plans for attracting the winter birds, one needs to consider four things : the kinds of food to be used ; methods of exposing it ; means of shelter from the severity of the weather ; and the protection of the birds from their enemies. A study of the habits of the birds which we expect to attract will give the clue to the successful solution of the problems involved in these considerations. As regards their food, our winter birds may be grouped in two classes, insect-eating birds, such as the chickadees, woodpeckers, nuthatches; and seed-eating birds, such as the sparrows and juncos. In general animal food will attract the first class and vegetable food the second, but insect-eating birds often eat vegetable food, and seed-eating birds often eat animal food.
As far as possible one should put out the kinds of food which birds prefer, if one would be most successful ; but in times of great hunger birds will eat many foods which under ordinary circumstances would not be attractive to them. The various records to which the author has had access indicate that the same species, in different localities, may prefer different kinds of food. Following are some of the preferences shown by the birds as reported by different observers : —
" The chickadee preferred the raw pork rinds to the suet. However, nothing seems to tempt the appetite of these birds like the seeds of the sun-flower." — A. C. Dike.
" The white-breasted nuthatch ate everything from cracked corn to suet, but seemed particularly fond of walnut meats." — Edwin C. Brown.
" Hungry birds will eat many things that do not belong strictly to bird-diet ; but two articles I have found will suffice for all species, suet in good-sized lumps, that will not be torn to shreds too soon for the woodpeckers and all other tree-trunk-climbing birds, and any one of the various dog-biscuits, broken into pieces of various sizes, ranging from that of a chestnut, which jays and nuthatches love to pound up to suit their tastes, to crumbs that tempt the junco, tree sparrow, purple finch, snow-flake, and even the robins and bluebirds; and the chickadee will take both meat and bread." — Mabel Osgood Wright.
The woodpeckers eat nothing but suet, while the juncos eat nothing but crumbs and seeds. The birds have a decided preference for doughnut-crumbs, although they are very fond of bread-crumbs. The brown creeper likes crumbs and suet, while the chickadees and nuthatches, although they will eat anything I give them, like nuts and squash-seeds best. I crack nuts for them and give them shells and all, while I simply break the squash-seeds in two." - Samuel D. Robbins.
" There is no better food to attract jays than chestnuts. Whole corn comes next and afterwards meat.
" A first-class bird-food is the berry of the myrtle, bayberries; practically all birds eat them.
" Quail are fond of picking over hayseed and chaff for the weed and grass in it. In fact all the sparrows are as fond of this as of anything.
"I think that the Japanese barnyard millet is the favorite among all seeds for the majority of our birds in Massachusetts. Fox sparrows are fond of this. They took it from our shelf all winter. The white-throated sparrow is a glutton for Japanese millet.
" The goldfinch prefers sunflower-seeds to all others." E. H. Forbush.
The author has found suet to be the best ani-mal food, being especially adapted for use in very cold weather, as it does not freeze readily. Small pieces, which might be otherwise wasted, may be melted together till they unite in one piece, and then allowed to cool. The best kinds of vegetable foods are found among the nuts and seeds. In the author's experience with winter birds, sunflower-seeds have proved a great favorite even with some insectivorous species like the chickadee and white-breasted nuthatch, which often select these seeds in preference to meat.
Birds tamed to eat from the Hand. — The kinds of food which birds have eaten from the hand may also suggest another way of ascertaining the kinds of food preferred, as evidently the birds need some special inducement to alight on the human hand, at least, for the first time. The following table summarizes in brief form the records which the author has been able to find of winter birds which have become so tame as to feed from the hand. In some of these cases the birds took the food from the hand in preference to other kinds lying near.
Best Foods. — A study of these various observations indicates that the following are the best foods to use : suet, nuts, sunflower-seeds, cracked corn, doughnut-crumbs, bread-crumbs, hemp, dog-biscuit, squash-seeds, hay-seed, Japanese millet, bayberry. The fat trimmings from beefsteak may be eaten if hung up in trees. Bones as they are trimmed out, with a few shreds of meat and fat attached, may serve as a substitute for suet, especially if they are cut or broken open so as to expose the marrow.
Other foods which have been reported as being eaten are : raw pork-rinds, meat-scraps, which had better be run through a meat-chopper, chaff from barn-floor or hay-loft, oats, bird-seed, buckwheat, boiled potatoes, and rice.
A piece of carrion hung up in the orchard or edge of the woods may serve as food for the crows and jays. The jays are also fond of chestnuts and corn. When the ground is deeply covered with snow, the grain-eating birds may have difficulty in securing grit which is needed in the gizzard for grinding the food. To supply this need, coal-ashes or sand may be put out.
Time to begin. — It is important that the food should be put out early, even by the latter part of October, before the supply of natural food becomes scarce, as the early supply may induce some birds to remain, which might otherwise pass on.
The food should also be supplied with regularity, particularly so during stormy or severe weather, so that the birds may be able to find a supply at all times. Care should be taken, in the use of such foods as decay or sour easily, to see that the spoiled food is removed and a fresh supply provided; at times it may be well to supply water.
Species of Birds feeding. — From the re-cords which have been available to the author, the following table has been compiled showing the kinds of birds which have eaten the food placed on or near buildings, the number of times recorded, and the kinds of food eaten by the species.
The table includes the reports of forty-five observers, representing fourteen states, chiefly in the northeastern section of the country. The birds are arranged in the order of the frequency with which they have been reported. Of the forty-three species here included, eighteen have become sufficiently tame to feed from a window and eight fed from the hand.
From these reports we may conclude that, to attract the downy and hairy woodpeckers and the red-breasted nuthatch, we must depend entirely on animal food, while for the chickadee and white-breasted nuthatch, a great variety of foods may be provided, both animal and vegetable. For the members of the finch family, we must use vegetable food almost entirely.
Feeding Spring and Summer Birds. — If food is kept out during the early spring, even after the winter birds cease to use it, some of the early spring birds may come to feed on it. The following have been reported as doing so: Pine warbler, blackbird, catbird, purple finch, robin, bluebird, Baltimore oriole. In a number of cases where food was kept out during the late spring, birds which nested in the vicinity carried this food to their young, and after the young left the nest they were brought there to feed. This has been noted of the catbird, robin, downy woodpecker, titmouse, and bluebird. A number of observers have found that by keeping out food constantly, birds which have fed during the winter months have remained to nest either in bird-houses or in some neighboring site, such as the chickadee and red breasted nuthatch. One observer reports that the chickadees feed on suet more or less all the spring, and that the male feeds the female with it while she is on the nest. Another reports that robins, song and chipping sparrows, and catbirds appropriated suet, and catbirds and downy wood-peckers used it to feed their young.
If oats, wheat, or cracked corn are thrown out during the spring on the hard ground in the yard or paths, blackbirds, thrushes, and sparrows may be attracted, and some may remain to nest in the vicinity.
In " Bird-Lore," Dr. Hodge cites an instance in which a pair of bluebirds were induced to nest in a particular bird-house by being fed with meal-worms. They became so tame that both fed from the hand and the female would perch upon it. The pair nested in a neighboring house, and came daily to the window-sill for food till the first brood left the nest. A. full account of this very interesting experience is given in volume vi, number 2, of " Bird-Lore.