The Ottumwa Courier


November 15, 2013

Preparing now to feed birds through winter

DES MOINES — The last of the leaves are hanging on but shorter, cooler days remind us that the next season is approaching — the bird feeding season.

Legions of backyard birders are swinging into action, ready for the feathered flocks that are gathering nearby.

“It always starts this time in the autumn, the birds are setting up their feeding regimes,” said Pat Schlarbaum, wildlife diversity technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “It’s a great time of year to get your bird feeders cleaned up, have some water available and the birds will respond.

“It makes you feel good. It brings the beauty of the outdoors right to your picture window, right outside your kitchen. It adds immeasurably to the outdoor experience.”

Next to gardening, watching wildlife rates as Iowa’s top outdoor activity according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. More than 750,000 Iowans are estimated to watch and feed wildlife each year. A big chunk of the $300 million spent on wildlife is birdseed, suet, feeders and other feather-friendly supplies.

The biggest bang for the bird-feeding buck? It comes in a big brown bag.

“Sunflower seeds are probably the preferred seed for the majority of songbirds that we like to attract at our bird feeding areas. Particularly the cardinals, the tufted titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, they all like black sunflower seed,” he said.

If sunflower seeds are the choice, take a closer look – on the back.

A high fat content — as high as 38 percent — is more valuable in the cold when birds have to stoke up on calories to survive. Some bird watchers swear they see birds picking through feeders to find the good stuff, wasting the other seeds on the ground.

Suet attracts a crowd, too — various woodpeckers, flickers and nuthatches. Don’t forget the fresh water. It’s not just for drinking but for birds to bathe in. Clean feathers keep them warmer than dirty ones in the cold to come.

“Your bird feeder will be one stop in a range of feeding opportunities so don’t worry leaving it for the weekend, but realize that when you do have seed out, the water, the birds are gonna come to your setting and that’s what we strive for,” Schlarbaum said.

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