Some bird-feeding myths live on. Ignore them!

Sherrie Versluis Feathered Friends
Sherrie Versluis
Feathered Friends

So some manufacturers are promoting upside down feeders for finches. Why would a finch want to eat that way? In fact, they don’t.

With the spring and summer season upon us, it’s a great time to review the practices of feeding wild birds in the warm weather. Feeding wild birds has grown to be one of the most popular hobbies in North America and with its popularity we’re hearing many myths that have been passed down through the generations. Research has shown many of the alleged facts about their eating habits to be incorrect. In some cases, the practices they encourage can be harmful to our feathered friends.

With this in mind, here are some dos and don’ts you should note, to protect your avian visitors in the coming months.

American goldfinches are a high point of summer bird-watching. Their bright plumage, lovely songs and friendly behaviour make them very desirable birds to have around. One of the gimmicks on the market ostensibly to achieve this is an Upside Down feeder. These are presented in a way to make the consumer think that finches like to feed upside down.

Stick to nyjer

Finches are able to feed in that position, but gravity makes this a less than comfortable option. The accompanying material also implies that this style of feeder will deter sparrows, but it doesn’t.

Buy a right-side-up feeder made of high quality polycarbonate or a stainless steel mesh clinging-style feeder and you will see your finches staying longer and thus giving you more viewing pleasure. Also, avoid wasteful foods described as “finch mixes” and stick to their favourite foods: nyjer seed and a fine-grind shelled sunflower.

Hummingbirds are among the most exciting birds you can attract. It’s unfortunate that manufacturers today are producing non-functional feeders for them. Many of these are made with blown glass in lovely shapes and colours, with a stem coming out of the bottom for the hummingbird to drink from. The only thing these feeders do, though, is leak and attract ants and wasps. Other feeders now on the market are cute but can’t be cleaned properly and don’t accommodate hummingbirds for any length of time to allow you to enjoy them.

When purchasing a feeder, check to make sure you can completely take it apart to clean and that it has perches. Many people have the idea that hummingbirds do not perch. That’s not correct. They are able to hover as they eat but they will always use a perch when it’s available. I have watched hummers preening themselves, stretching, and sitting for prolonged periods at my feeders. When the young ones come in August they especially like the perches.

The greatest dispute about hummingbirds revolves around what to feed them. In my 20 years in the business I have heard more versions of nectar recipes than I have of chocolate chip cookies. Nectar has to be comparable to what natural plants offer. The one and only recipe to use is one part white sugar to four parts water. Boil the water first, turn the element off and stir in the sugar till it dissolves. The same recipe is used to feed orioles.

A big myth would have householders make the sugar water solution sweeter in spring, for example using a two-to-one ratio. Not right. Flowers do not change their sweetness and neither should you.

Another long-lived but baseless belief is that colouring should be added to the water. You should recognize that manufacturers design feeders to attract hummingbirds, and so the feeder base will be coloured even if the bottle is clear.

Nectar should be changed at least twice a week and should never be left out for more than a week under any circumstances. If your own drink was left outside in the heat for a week would you drink it? Of course you wouldn’t. It would taste awful and be mouldy and full of bacteria.

In short, stronger sugar solutions, food colouring and mould are very hard on the hummingbirds’ digestive system and liver. Make a container of nectar that can be left in the fridge for up to two weeks, so you can change it regularly without difficulty and put out a safe, clean drink for these very welcome visitors.

Be good to the hummers

Hummingbirds produce two babies at the most each season and the bird population is declining each year. We need to take care of them if we are lucky enough to attract them. By explaining proper treatment methods to your friends and family, you can help ensure that the generation that succeeds us will be able to enjoy these amazing birds as well. When we choose to feed wildlife, it is our responsibility to do it properly.

Finally, when you go to the city parks this year to visit the duck ponds, do not pick up a loaf of bread on the way. This is an unnatural and unhealthy choice of food. I have yet to see any trees or plants that grow bread. Bread causes a huge nutritional deficiency and extreme discomfort. It swells inside the birds after they consume it. It also contaminates the ponds where they gather. Bring some cracked corn or wheat instead as a healthy, affordable option.

Do have some fun this summer, and some happy bird-watching experiences.

Sherrie Versluis owns the Preferred Perch Wild Bird Specialty and Gift Store in Winnipeg, and is an avid birder.

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