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  • Marie Payne

Tips for Backyard Bird Feeding

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

It is always fun to feed the birds at your backyard feeders. The old saying 'if you build it, they will come' is so true. The commitment you make when you put up feeders may be lifelong. Some naturalists frown on providing artificial feed for wild birds as it habituates them to us humans. The problem I see with that is we humans have destroyed and invaded the natural habitats of birds (and other wildlife) so somehow, we must supplement what has been destroyed.

Providing some feed for the birds in our backyard has been a joyful pastime. I try to fill the feeders at the same time every day. The Blue Jays usually are looking for me when I'm late. They can usually be heard announcing that the smorgasbord is open when I start to fill up the feeders. The chickadees also like to advertise to their friends.

To attract a variety of birds to your yard you need to offer several types of feed. Knowing what birds are in your area is important. There are many types of feed to offer for the birds in your yard. A great resource I have used is Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide by Myrna Pearman.

Getting back to the topic of hand feeding chickadees. The chickadees like black sunflower seeds, which come in a variety of forms; whole seeds, shelled seeds and medium or tiny chips. Each type requires a different feeder, unless you want the bold Blue Jays or English Sparrows to shovel out the entire amount.

I have also added mixed nuts to the menu, only offering a few each day. I hide morsels in natural crevices and holes and enjoy watching the Chickadees find them. The White Breasted Nuthatch is fun to watch as it runs down the tree to each hiding spot. The Blue Jays and Chickadees have a better advertising system and many times all the seeds are gone by the time the Nuthatch shows up.

I have also added meal worms to my menu. I used to buy a bag in the winter for the very cold days and the bad weather in the spring to help supplement the protein. The company I was using ships their freeze-dried meal worms from China. So, this spring, with nothing else to do, I started raising my own meal worms. That is a whole other story for another time.

To offer feed from hand takes some patience. Start by feeding birds every day and staying close while they come in to feed. When they are comfortable with me out there, I talk and move around slowly so they relax around me and do not fly off at the blink of an eye.

You can offer their favourite food in small container that you are holding and gradually move the food to your hand. It helps if their regular food is limited so I do this hand feeding before I fill up the feeders. There seems to be one or two brave ones that will be curious and then come regularly to your hand. Over time they will train others to mimic this behaviour. I wear a rubberized glove (not woolly so the feet get caught) or use my bear hand. Holding the live worms is challenging; the wiggling helps attract some curios birds if you can control the worms and not be grossed out.

Sometimes wearing the same coat or gloves helps the birds be comfortable with you. Birds do not like small children as they move and react too much. When the birds are consistently coming in to feed to one person then you can add others.

It is always a thrill to see the tiny creatures so close. Enjoy! The hardest part is getting a picture of the event. Remember to wash your hands before and after any encounter.

There is a hiking trail in Red Deer where the chickadees will come to sit on your hand if you have black oil sunflower seeds. I just saw a YouTube video of someone feeding a Cardinal.

My goal is to someday feed a Blue Jay.

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