This is the second in a four part series.
By Ranger Steve Mueller
Bird feeder variety will attract more birds. It is not necessary to become elaborate but some features may cost more upfront and will save money over time. A coming article will discuss feeder options.
Cost and value (energy content) of seed is important for you and the birds. Days of free suet are gone. When I began using suet, meat markets gave animal fat away. It was a waste product. About 40 years ago, they learned to market the high-energy food and began charging. Their cost was the wrapping paper and of course the butcher’s time. Since then, processed suet cakes have become popular and some have seeds encased.
Your preference might be for simple suet cakes that fit easily into a rectangular wire basket or possibly a larger basket that holds chunks of suet from the meat counter. Baskets are better than bag holders. Hang the suet from tree branches. Rubber coated wire baskets look sharp and last longer. It was rumored that a bird’s eye may freeze to bare wire and blind it in the manner a person’s tongue will stick to frozen metal. I have never heard of a case where an eye was damaged. A real danger is suet holding onion bags made of string or plastic. While I was a ranger at Traverse City State Park, I came home to a dead Downy Woodpecker hanging by the head from my string suet bag. It got caught and could not free itself. That was 1969 and the last time I used the bags.
Woodpeckers especially find suet favorable but chickadees, nuthatches, and even crows come to the hanging baskets. Pieces fall to the ground when birds peck at it where ground-feeding birds like juncos and cardinals clean up.
Cost of feed is important and birdseed has doubled in price since sunflowers and corn are now used to make bio-fuel. Other agricultural products are better for that purpose but a shift has not occurred yet.
I consider black oil sunflower seed the biggest bang for the buck. Local feed mills are great and often are more cost effective than chain stores. Locally owned feed mills keep money in the community and provide personal service with a hometown feeling. The black oil seed has a better ratio of seed “meat” to hull compared with striped sunflower seed. One can buy hulled seed but it is prohibitively expensive so I let the birds hull the seeds themselves. If you live in an apartment, the landlord may allow hulled seeds but not seeds with hulls.
When comparing prices, check bag weight. Larger bags are less expensive per unit than 5 or 10-pound bags. Large bags weigh 40 or 50 pounds. I buy the larger ones to keep costs down. Some of you know I am challenged with multiple myeloma cancer that resulted in seven spontaneous spinal fractures. Doctor orders limit my lifting to 25 pounds to help prevent more fractures. That means I cannot move the large bag of seeds but the local mill loads them in my car and at home family members move them to the storage bin. Imposed on many of us are limitations that may require the purchase of lightweight bags. Check your local feed dealer in the yellow pages.
To prevent mice, shrew, and vole access, use a tightly sealed storage bin. Mine holds 100 pounds of seeds but I only buy 50 pounds at a time unless the price is excellent. Keep seed dry to avoid rot. I only feed during the winter and cold weather aids seed storage. Sometimes I feed birds during summer but mostly use yard landscaping to provide bird food. A coming Nature Niche will describe landscaping for wildlife.
Thistle seed is a bird favorite, but expensive. I put it on my Christmas wish list and use it sparingly. Other excellent protein sources are peanuts and live mealworms. More on feeding will be in the coming Nature Niche.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.
Read part one in this series here: http://cedarspringspost.com/2013/01/31/ranger-steves-nature-niche-4/