Saturday, May 31, 2008

What To Feed?

Several have asked what is it I offer to attract the Orioles and Tanagers; they love oranges and grape jelly…and suet. It turns out the Western Tanagers like that stuff, as well…though I don’t seem to have quite as many today as I did a couple weeks ago. Heck, even the Black-headed Grosbeaks like the grape jelly. It’s a good thing I bought a huge bottle of the stuff…I figured a 3- (three!!!) pound jar of Smucker’s would last all season; but no, I already need to buy another after only about a month. And no, I do not eat the stuff myself; thank you very much for asking.

For the last several weeks, the main birds at my feeders are Grosbeaks (mostly Evening with several Black-headed ones as well) …with Pine Siskins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles, Starlings and Doves also present most of the time. The occasional Goldfinch, House Finch, Rose-breasted Grosbeak still show up, as well as what must be three or four nesting pairs of Bullock’s Orioles. I know there are that many pairs, because I see that many males at one time…each one seems to think all the jelly is his! I have recently posted at least one photo of a Tanager posing as a jelly-head, so it’s no wonder I’m going through the stuff.

Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Woodpeckers all come and go daily; darting in and out for sunflower seeds or for a couple minutes at one of the suet-feeders. I hang at least one fruit- and one nut-packed suet-cage all the time. Many of the birds enjoy suet, including the Orioles and Tanagers…who knew? I regularly see Flickers as well…though never at actually at a feeder. They seem to prefer hunting ants on the dry patches at the edges of my lawn. For the past two days, a very large Black-billed Magpie has been trying to feed, without much success, at the suet-cage. It's just too big to hang their easily, but it must get enough as it keeps coming for more.

Somewhere, I read that there are some who think feeding too strong a sugar solution will burn out the kidneys of the birds…but a 4-1 solution is considered best for hummingbirds and a 6-1 ratio for Orioles. Right, like I’m going to be able to keep them apart! Actually, some time ago I drilled all my feeders’ drinking-ports out so that either hummers or Orioles could enjoy them. Mine have perches, so the bigger birds do just fine with them. My concern was if I make the solution too thin, the birds will quit bothering with it. Make it too weak and it is not worth their effort to drink it, on the other hand, I don’t want to make the birds sick, either. That is when I decided to offer more choices.

A few weeks ago, I did some research online and found what I consider the best place to buy mealworms. Dang, the prices are all over the place, some of the websites are not exactly intuitive or well-kept and some of the people I talked to were downright impossible to talk to; either not able to discuss their product knowledgably or in such a hurry to make a sale that they had no time to help me make an informed decision. Then I found Sunshine Mealworms and the very nice owner who told me she’s been farming worms for some time. What a neat bunch of people must work there! I bought 4,000 worms for about $20. And they keep forever in the fridge (don’t forget to put apple slices in their container; they need the moisture to stay fat & sassy) and I figured the birds would love them.

Not the case, at least at first. Well, except for the big black birds…all those guys seem to eat anything. I add a top-dressing of mealworms to the Black-oil seeds I put out and the Grosbeaks ignore ‘em! I refuse to purposely feed blackbirds…to the point that I am mostly feeding safflower seeds these days (about the same price as Black-oil Sunflower seed, but squirrels and those impossible starlings don’t like it). At any rate, big seed is all those conical-beaked birds seem to want. But…it turns out the Orioles love the worms! I’ll have to watch a bit more closely to see if the Tanagers also eat them. It is primarily those two birds that I see at the fruit and jelly feeder.

Finally, I can feel better about feeding a heartier solution (4-1) of nectar to the birds because I’m also feeding orange-halves, apple slices, grape jelly and now mealworms, too. I believe variety is the spice of life…for birds, too. An online acquaintance and expert naturalist/writer, Kevin Cook, has graciously answered several questions I’ve privately posed to him about birds. He suggested I separate my feeders both by distance and by food choices. He told me that all the jostling for position and food is what contributes to the spread of disease and scares off smaller or more timid birds. It was very good advice, and now hummers eat in peace, shell-crackers enjoy what they eat without flinging smaller seed all about and the fruit and worm eaters get just what they want on their plates, too.

Having said that, I just watched a White-breasted Nuthatch run off another bird and sift through the flat-bed feeder looking for mealworms. The little bird found several that it collected in one beak-full before it flew off. This makes me immensely happy, as I figured those worms were just going to cook in the sun this afternoon...or fill the belly of a dreaded Brown-headed Cowbird.

Usually I bring my feeders in at night, not wanting to encourage bears who will come right up on a porch and bite through a hummingbird feeder and drink it down like a kid with those juice-filled wax teeth. Once I found a suet cage across the yard; totally mangled. I suspect the masked raiders; doesn't everybody have racoons from time to time? No point in inviting them...or this pretty thing.
Somehow I imagine she'd love some grape jelly.


Bosque Bill said...

Yes, I have to bring in my feeders at night or "Rocky" will tear 'em down and feast. I lost a suet cage or two before I figured that out. The raccoon doesn't bother the thistle feeder, though.

I've heard that bluebirds will love the mealworms, but don't have personal experience.

What a fabulous variety of birds you have at your feeders! Around here winter brings the most and various to my feeders, as there is lots of more delicious natural food to forage in the warmer months.

Beverly said...

And to that end (and the rising cost of ...well, everything), I may gradually let this last batch of seed and thistle run out.

The birds in my yard are gradually dispursing as things green-up. I've heard winter and spring are the best times to feed, if helping them make-it is your goal. That works for me!

I've heard the same thing about the Bluebirds...but have yet to see one in my yard. [shakes head] Thought I had some there for awhile...but were Lazuli Buntings! LOL Still, I have more than 3500 mealworms left, so I'll be feeding those for awhile! LOL

Bosque Bill said...

The only time I saw bluebirds in my yard they were moving though quickly, feeding on the ground in the Back 40 which is an open field. This was very early spring.

Saw a few in the Sandia foothills last week (at about 6500') and they were fly hunting from the tops of pinyons.

Beverly said...

Well, La Veta is just over 7000' with both mountains and plains kind of habitat. I've seen Blue-birds in the area, but like Meadowlarks...they seem to hang more in the wide-open spaces, huh?

Ya know, I'm going to add flyovers...they count, don't they? WEG

BTW, I quit feeding chicken-scratch to the wild birds; I got wayyyyyy too many of those voracious Red-winged Blackbirds, not to mention Eurasian Doves. And...SKUNKS; did you know they like corn, too? Sheeshhhhhhh!