Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

GARDENING: Birdie num num

The right feeder will attract feathered friends

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Feeding wild birds is a popular hobby for people all ages and one that is enjoyable for many different reasons -- a chance to get closer to nature, a love of birds, and pure entertainment.

Manitoba is visited by a diverse selection of wild birds each winter. Putting out the right feeders and food is key to attracting them to your backyard.

Some of these feathered visitors are year-round residents; others are here just for the season. The most popular birds are black-capped chickadees, blue jays, red- and white-breasted nuthatches, hairy and downy woodpeckers, and house finches to name a few.

Birds that are seen only or mostly in winter are common and hoary redpolls, pine siskins, evening and pine grosbeaks, and only on rare sightings, the northern cardinal and red-bellied woodpecker. These are just some of the birds you might see and some are very colourful with shades of pink, red, yellow, and blue.

If you are already feeding birds and have not seen any of these species, you may not have the right feeders or your yard may be dominated by the house sparrow, a very aggressive year-round resident.

House sparrows are a non-native, introduced species of European origin and are considered the most widely distributed bird around the world. House sparrows were deliberately introduced to North America in the 1850s as a natural solution to agricultural insects. Their presence was first recorded on the Prairies in the 1890s and today, in North America alone, their population is estimated in the hundreds of millions. House sparrows are considered an agricultural pest as they feed on many of the seeds and grains grown. Don't mistake house sparrows for the lovely native sparrows we see here such as white-throated, chipping, harris, and fox. These desirable sparrows do not have any negative traits.

House sparrows have learned to adapt and survive, sometimes at the expense of our native birds. They are extreme competitors for nesting spaces and food sources. One pair of house sparrows can raise almost 40 chicks per summer and will break eggs or kill the chicks of other nests in their territory. American robins, mourning doves, eastern bluebirds, and American goldfinches are some of the migratory birds that are victims of sparrow attacks.

Purple martin colonies are also greatly affected as house sparrows transmit mites and parasites into the colony that can be life-threatening to young martins. At birdfeeders, house sparrows dominate and toss seed all over the ground while deterring favoured birds.

House sparrows are difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of, especially if you provide housing or have roosting places such as cedar trees and lilacs. If you have a lot of sparrows, the best thing to do is to give them white millet. This is a control food and allows you to keep the majority of sparrows in one area. Any feeder is suitable for sparrows but place it a minimum of 10 feet away from other feeders. Ensure the millet is pure and not mixed with anything else; this way the sparrows will eat it all, even off the ground.

Now to attract some beautiful birds! The ideal food to offer is black oil sunflower seed. This is the universal seed for attracting desirable birds to feeders. My preferred feeder style is called a tube feeder. This is a very functional feeder as the design ensures very little spillage. Trays can be added to the bottom of the feeder to act as a landing platform for larger birds and a catching tray for any dropped seed.

Window feeders can suction-cup right to your window and are great for attracting birds as well as deterring them from hitting windows.

These feeders are perfect for seeing wild birds up close.

Attracting finches to feeders is often mistaken as only a summer option. We get some lovely winter finches such as redpolls and pine siskins. Finch feeders are designed with very tiny feeding ports that offer nyjer seed (also known as thistle seed). This seed is also enjoyed by house sparrows so it is important to offer it in the right feeder.

Suet feeders are one of my favourites. They are fabulous for attracting woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and even blue jays. Unfortunately, many of the commercial suets available are filled with poor quality seed mixes or can be rancid when purchased. Suet is a pure, clean fat from beef or venison. Bacon fat, lard and other fat substitutes should not be used as they are not appropriate for birds to consume due to salt content or the synthetic preservatives used. Look for suet that contains nuts, insects, fruit, or a combination of these ingredients. Suet can be offered in a suet basket, which is a plastic-coated metal cage, or logs can be drilled out and suet packed into the holes.

There are only two options to deter squirrels from feeders. A truly squirrel-proof feeder is one way. Otherwise, feeders must be placed on a pole 10 feet away from anything with a baffle attached to prevent climbing of the pole. Don't be fooled by other gimmicks, squirrels are too smart for them. The other choice is to just feed them as well.

These are a few of the ways you can attract wild birds to your yard this winter. Join into one of the most popular hobbies you can enjoy right from the comforts of your own home. Happy birding!

A popular hobby

A showy mountain ash grows outside my kitchen window. I love the clusters of bright orange-red berries in the late summer.

The display is short-lived, though, because a flock of cedar waxwings arrives at about the same time each September, as if on cue, and hungrily devours every last berry. It's fascinating to watch them swoop in en masse, satisfy themselves, and then disappear for another year.

Birdwatching is the second most popular hobby in North America, after gardening. Linda Pearn, secretary of the Prairie Garden Annual, is an avid birder.

"I do a lot of birding right in my backyard, often sitting in a chair or on the back step. A great advantage of this is that the birds are relatively close, so that their features are easily seen. When you sit still, the birds come to you and behaviours can be observed. Large trees (elm and birch) and many shrubs attract the feathered friends as do a couple of water features and many seed feeders."

Christian Artuso is Manitoba program manager for Bird Studies Canada, a not-for-profit organization built on the enthusiastic contributions of thousands of volunteer citizen scientists. Data from BSC's volunteer surveys and targeted research projects are used to identify significant population changes and help direct conservation planning.

Artuso co-ordinates the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas (birdatlas.mb.ca). "We have more than 800 Manitobans registered who participate in documenting breeding birds in the province. People enjoy watching birds at different levels -- some will travel long distances to see them; some will go for a walk; others like to sit at the kitchen window with a cuppa -- but all can contribute data to an ongoing monitoring program," Arturo says.

Interested in being part of the Christmas Bird Count or Project Feeder Watch? Visit www.bsc-eoc.org/ for more details or call 204-945-6816.

Today's contributor is Sherrie Versluis, owner of the Preferred Perch on St. Mary's Road. Her passion for birds began when she was a teenager. She bred small parrots and worked in pet stores. Today, she encourages people to feed birds and to respect the importance of songbirds in our environment.

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Brandon's the Green Spot Home & Garden will host its annual ladies night on Friday, Nov. 9. 1329 Rosser Ave. East. Call 204-727-5884 for details.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2012 A1

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