This winter, when food is in short supply on the Maine landscape, most of the state’s birds will do just fine. The chickadees and nuthatches, goldfinches and cardinals, bluejays and northern mockingbirds, woodpeckers and tufted titmice — they remain in Maine during the winter because they’ve adapted to survive the cold.
Nevertheless, I enjoy helping them out just a little bit by filling a few bird feeders with sunflower seeds, peanuts and thistle. And during the winter, you don’t have to worry about your bird feeders attracting black bears, which are hibernating.
Winter is also a great time to put out suet cakes, which melt to mush in warmer months.
So the other day, I filled up the two bird feeders that hang from a pole in my backyard. And in one day, they were empty. I couldn’t believe it. So I filled them again, and now birds are constantly flitting about the trees at the edge of my small yard.
Bluejays and chickadees were the first to visit the feeders. Then came the white-breasted nuthatches and their smaller relative, the red-breasted nuthatch.
Then two little gray birds appeared. I hadn’t ever noticed them in the yard before, so I used the Internet and the help of a coworker to identify them as tufted titmice — which are grey with a white belly and a rusty or peach-colored streak down its side. It’s a pretty bird, I think, with big black eyes, a black patch above its nose and a tuft of grey on its head that reminds me of a cardinal.
And after about two days, the ruckus in my yard attracted a group of goldfinches, birds I remember from my days in Brewer.
And in an effort to attract some resident woodpeckers (I’ve seen both downy and pileated woodpeckers flying around) I’ve put out some suet cakes. I’ll let you know if I have any luck.
While I’m no expert at feeding birds, I have learned a few tips and tricks from others over the past couple years:
1. Many different types of birds eat black sunflower seeds, shelled or without their shells.
2. Smaller birds such as nuthatches, chickadees and goldfinches enjoy the tiny black seed called thistle, also known as niger or nyger seed.
3. Woodpeckers can’t really get to your average bird feeder, but they do seem to like suet cakes. Some feeders have little wire compartments on the side for suet cakes, or you can hang them in a wire square cage or wooden feeders made specifically for suet cakes.
4. Bluejays like peanuts. They also like it when you put seed in a platter on the ground. They’re a big bird and have a tough time getting seeds from small bird feeders, especially the tube feeders with small perches. My larger wooden house feeders seem to be OK for them.
5. There tends to be a bit of a hierarchy at the feeder. Bluejays can be bullies, chasing other birds away from the feeder, but I’ve also seen goldfinches flap their wings at other birds, and I’ve noticed that white-breasted nuthatches seem to take precedence over red-breasted nuthatches, which are smaller.
6. Less expensive bird seed often has a lot of filler seeds in it that birds will simply throw on the ground and not eat.
7. Be sure to clean out your bird feeders regularly because mold can grow inside and make birds sick (even kill birds!).