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The next few days are likely to be the most frantic, stressful and costly of the entire year, but since I get to dwell on all things outdoorsy it’s my duty to remind faithful readers of The Rolling Thunder Express to include the birds and other wild critters in their holiday planning. I was reminded of this just a few days ago when, following a spell of really bad weather (unless you like wind, rain, sleet and ice) I neglected to replenish the back yard feeders with cracked corn and sunflower seeds.
If you think it’s crazy how people camp out and stand in line for days awaiting the new cell phone creations, you should see the blue jays, chickadees, crows, turkeys and squirrels when I forget to feed them. I literally have wild turkeys on my back deck pecking at the back door demanding more food. The blue jays gang up in the maples above the porch and scream endlessly for their share, and the squirrels even get into the act, looking all around and pretending there’s surely some food here, they just can’t find it. And the chickadees are the worst – fluttering down to peck at the feeder and putting on their best “I’m so hungry” faces.
I realize that it’s my own fault for putting food out in the first place and I do my best to keep a steady supply out there, but all I have to do is miss one day and the protests begin. These little creatures can be more demanding than a roomful of middle schoolers. They don’t stop till they get what they want, either!
Bird seed, corn and other feeder supplies can be expensive if you buy them in the smaller 1- or 5-pound bags, so it makes sense to purchase your seeds in 40- or 50-pound quantities. I buy two of everything whenever I’m at the feed store because I know I’ll end up running out when the weather is worst or I have 101 things to do that day. Once winter gets rolling I’ll go through a bag of sunflower seeds in a week, and if the deer decide to stop by the wildlife grain disappears just as quickly. The woodpeckers seem to be thriftier when it comes to suet feeders but if the squirrels or flickers decide to partake I can go through three blocks of suet in a week as well.
Of course, I’m more than willing to foot the bill for all this stuff because I enjoy seeing my furred and feathered neighbors stop by every day, but I highly recommend that if you are going to start feeding wildlife you buy in bulk, especially if you plan to keep the program going all winter. Purchasing bird seed by the handful can be incredibly costly because a lot of it is wasted. My birds don’t like millet, for example; yet most packaged seed mixes are primarily millet and other unpopular grains. I have the best luck with black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn. Some species (turkeys and deer) prefer wildlife grain, perhaps for the molasses that’s mixed in, but my backyard buddies avoid the stuff until all the preferred foods are gone.
If you are going to get into the wild and crazy world of winter wildlife feeding, I highly recommend that you avoid the small, cute little feeders and seed balls that, at first glance, seem like a great idea. They don’t last very long and, if you have squirrels coming in they’re likely to destroy anything made of cheap plastic. After years of fighting with squirrels I bought a nice metal squirrel-proof feeder (expensive but effective) for the smaller perching birds and simply put the rest of my sunflower seeds, corn and grain in separate piles on the ground.
I keep the feeding sites clear of ice and snow, and time my feeding so there is little or no grain on the ground when a major storm blows in. Later, I’ll clear the area with a shovel, put out new grain and sit back to watch the show. Shoveling does scatter some grain around but the birds and squirrels have no trouble finding it. In fact, the practice allows the critters to keep some distance between themselves, a big issue for blue jays, turkeys, squirrels and deer. These and others don’t seem to like sharing with other species, and the competition is even worse among mid-sized mammals such as skunks, raccoons, foxes and such. None of these have seen the Disney movies where all the creatures of the forest gather around, shoulder to shoulder, and sing happy tunes. That’s just not the way it is at the back yard feeder. Bullying is alive and well in the real world!
Because wildlife feeding is a popular winter pastime it’s a good idea to call the feed store well before supplies get low because at some point during the winter there is likely to be a shortage of one seed type or another. This is why I prefer to double up on the most popular feeds (sunflower seeds and corn) so I don’t end up running out a week before the next delivery.
If you are just getting started in wildlife feeding, put out a few cupfuls of seed, corn or grain and wait for the birds to find it. This may take a few days but sooner or later birds and squirrels will begin to show up. It’s a good idea to go out and make some noise (I bang my seed buckets together) to catch the attention of nearby birds. The woods have eyes, as the saying goes, and nothing goes unnoticed. When the first few curious chickadees and titmice start making regular visits to your back yard the other critters will notice and then the stampede will begin. Singles doubles and then entire flocks will make your yard a regular foraging stop. On the best of days I’ll have 50 blue jays, 20 squirrels, 40 turkeys and an endless stream of chickadees, nuthatches, finches and woodpeckers stop by during the day. It’s entertaining and enjoyable to see so many wild critters just outside the window, a good way to pass those “cold and snowy” days predicted for us by the Farmer’s Almanac. And don’t worry – they’ll let you know when the food runs out!
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