Choosing food and feeders for the backyard birds

Ignore the gimmickry! Here’s down-to-earth advice on what birds really like.

Sherrie Versluis Feathered Friends
Sherrie Versluis
Feathered Friends

Every spring I like to recap the do’s and don’ts of feeding wild birds now and throughout the summer. There are so many beautiful birds to attract during this time and, sadly, there is a lot of bad information out there. I am often shocked at some of the poor advice that is published on the Internet and even in some books. Here is some great information to share with anyone you know who enjoys feeding wild birds.

Everyone is captivated with hummingbirds and wants to attract them to birdfeeders. Due to their popularity, feeders and related products are marketed to be cute and appealing, so people buy them. In most cases you will attract more ants, wasps, and hornets than hummingbirds because of the poor designs of the feeders.

Be sure to look for feeders that are leak-proof and bug-proof and most importantly are easy to clean. When it comes to what food you should offer, this is where a lot of bad information comes along.

There is only one recipe for hummingbird nectar. Measure out four cups of boiled water, add one cup of white sugar and stir till dissolved. Never make it any sweeter as it is very difficult for hummingbirds to process nectar that is too rich. The four-to-one ratio is the closest there is to the actual nectar found in flowers. Please avoid pre-made nectars that are coloured and filled with synthetic preservatives which are not good for any living creature.

As for colouring, I have seen recommendations to add rose petals, drink powders and fruit juices. All of these will cause rapid fermentation and, what’s more, are totally unnecessary. Feeders are designed to be attractive to hummingbirds, so no artificial additions are necessary. Be sure to change the nectar frequently, as often as every second day in hot weather and never less than once a week.

Finches are among the most colourful birds you can attract to birdfeeders. The American goldfinch is a big favourite with their brilliant yellow plumage and adorable song. They will eat Nyjer seed from a Thistle feeder, but beware of soft plastic feeders because house sparrows can stretch the hole and chase away your finches. Avoid upside-down feeders; some finches will use them but it is not their preferred way to eat. Goldfinches also eat black oil sunflowers but because they are small they will sometimes be chased away by other birds.

Other finches that may be spotted are pine siskins, which love Nyjer seed, along with house and purple finches, which prefer the sunflowers. All finches are fond of window feeders filled with shelled sunflower seeds. These feeders are also great for stopping birds from colliding with windows. Personally over the years I have found finches prefer shelled sunflowers over any other food.

The bird that causes the most excitement is definitely the oriole. The sight of one of them in your back yard will have you captivated. They are striking in appearance with their brilliant orange plumage, and their songs are glorious. Orioles are quite easy to attract if you have the right offerings.

They eat nectar, just like hummingbirds – but in a specially designed feeder – and oranges, and their absolute favourite is grape jelly. Be sure to select a nectar feeder that is bug-proof as they are prone to attract bugs. Orange halves can be offered on feeders made with wood spikes or powder-coated metal. For jelly, please don’t confuse this with jam or Jello. Look for concord grape jelly: there are many great feeders for offering this. Grape jelly is also a great treat for some lovely birds like warblers, catbirds and tanagers.

A truly special assortment of colourful wild bird species visits Manitoba from spring to fall. Be sure to have all of your feeders up by the end of April to get the best results and attract a wide variety of birds.

Sherrie Versluis owns The Preferred Perch in St. Vital. She can be reached at 204-257-3724.

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