Did you know that the month of February has been designated as “Bird Feeding Month”? Since 1989? Well, neither did I. And I also have no idea who exactly designated it as such.
Some organization that calls itself the “National Bird Feeding Society” apparently came up with the idea. A congressman, John Porter, announced it in Congress. So now we have it, I guess.
Not that it is not a great idea. Personally, I’m all for it. The only change I’d make is to rename it and call it the “Bird Feeding Four Months” to include December, January and March.
However, February is a good choice as well because it is generally the harshest of our winter months, weather-wise. And, when you consider that natural food for birds is often scarcest at that time, it is a very good choice.
Between now and the clear arrival of spring, the weather is often really bad. Brutal cold combined with periods of snow and ice make life for songbirds much more difficult. And it is a fact that feeding birds with high quality food in winter results in much better nesting success when spring finally does arrive, and especially where year-round feeders are available.
It’s important to keep feeders filled during winter months. If it is possible, include suet blocks and shelled peanuts at bird feeding stations in addition to black oil sunflower seeds, milo, millet, and thistle seeds to provide the extra calories that birds need. And if you watch closely, you can see chickadees hiding sunflower seeds under the bark of nearby trees after they have eaten their fill.
Feeding birds is relatively simple, fun, and relaxing for anyone to take part in, at any age. With more people working from home and more children learning from home, bird feeding is a perfect activity (especially if the feeders are visible from nearby windows. After all, what is better? Computer screens and televisions or watching birds feeding at a nearby feeder?
But there are some dangers involved with feeding birds, too. Unrestrained cats are, in my opinion, the biggest danger. It is estimated that cats kill billions of small birds and other small critters every year. They are absolutely lethal in their attempts to catch and kill birds, quite often just for the challenge since many are well-fed before going outside to do their business.
If you are not sure if you have a cat problem, and if there is soft snow on the ground under and around the feeder, just look down. Not seeing cat tracks is a good sign. But be vigilant and check that area on a regular basis.
What do you do if there are signs of cats hunting birds? Well, many years ago I suggested getting a BB gun to solve the problem, and readers from far and wide wrote me various notes suggesting various violence they wanted to perform on my tired old body. So now I simply suggest that feeders be emptied for a while until the danger to the birds has gone somewhere else. (But BB guns still work quite well.)
There are other dangers to feeding songbirds that are harder to avoid and pop up quite often. They are found mainly in the fully protected Accipiter family of hawks. There are three members in this family: the sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest; the Cooper’s hawk and the goshawk (the largest). All three species hunt songbird-sized birds. The goshawk will also take larger birds and mammals such as gray squirrels.
If one of these birds sets up shop near a bird feeder, do not panic. More often than not they will move on to another feeder in short order, rarely spending lots of time at any one feeder unless it is often loaded with lots of songbirds much of the time. However, if one does patronize a feeder, about the only thing you can do is stop feeding until the bird leaves. That should be one to two days at most.
And there is one other tidbit of information worth mentioning. If you have oak or hickory trees relatively close to your bird feeder, then take some time after dark to turn on a light so you can see if there is any activity at the feeder. It is anything but uncommon for flying squirrels to find and patronize a bird feeder between full darkness and midnight. They will utilize just about any seed, but they will choose black oil or striped sunflower seeds first of all.
And yes, you can attract these delightful little critters by simply putting up some flying squirrel boxes on the oak trees. Just build a bluebird nest box (or one that is a little larger) and drill a hole about the diameter of a golf ball on one side of the box or the other.
If you put up several boxes you can expect lots of these cute little critters to check in. After all, their favorite foods are acorns and bird seed.
All this talk of winter birds brings to mind my run-in with a winter bird that hung around for his spring frolic and his summer fun. And I fully realize that some species of birds and wildlife do strange and, at least for some of us, crazy things.
Now I’m not talking about the hen grouse that dragged its wing along as if it was broken to lead me away from her nest last summer (she hatched out 12 eggs). And I’m not too concerned about the redtail hawk that tried to take my head off when I walked too close to his (or her) nest (the two adults brought off three chicks).
No, this stuff I’m thinking of is truly strange.
You see, I had this male cardinal hanging around our house, and I do believe this bird was nuts. It began its day by attacking the mirrors on my pickup truck. In fact, it spent several hours each day engaged in that sordid and (hopefully) futile activity if I did not appear and send it off in search of other windmills to slay.
Of course I knew it was attacking the new rival male cardinal it saw. It was protecting its nearby nesting mate (four chicks) and its territory. I fully realized there was a rational reason for its continued self-abuse.
But did it have to be so messy?
On most days both sides of my nearly new truck looked like it was parked under a very large roost of well-fed birds. I simply could not believe so much effluent and goo could come from one three-ounce bird encased in scarlet plumage.
And since the residue was comprised of the remains of sweet wild black cherries it had filched from my tree it should be obvious to any of my 64 semi-regular readers as to both the extend and quality of said residue and goo!.
Steve Walker, my long time fishing and hunting buddy back in the good old days, suggested (probably with tongue in cheek) a rather radical and absolutely final solution to my problem.
But, because of my profession, background and extensive training, that course of action was completely out of the question. Turning the mirrors in on their built-in hinges so the bird could no longer see himself worked all right, but it was such a pain when I wanted to drive somewhere and forgot to turn them back out first.
I guess the best I could hope for was that the nesting season ended soon. Once the youngsters fledged (learn to fly from the nest), the adults would leave and my problem would be over.
Until the following year, that is.