Extension offers tips to attract birds to backyards

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9:27 a.m., Dec. 9, 2009----More than 53 million Americans feed wild birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Winter is when such supplemental feeding benefits the birds the most and probably when it benefits us the most, too.

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“A bird feeder can help you get through a cold, dreary winter,” says Maggie Moor-Orth, a Cooperative Extension agent at Delaware State University. “I love to watch the birds at my feeder or eating berries from the American holly and beautyberry shrub in my yard.”

Dot Abbott trains Master Gardeners so they have the background knowledge to teach workshops about attracting birds and other wildlife to backyards. A renewable resource agent for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Abbott has eight different feeders in her own backyard, ranging from a corn station for squirrels to a feeder set close to her house that's stocked with thistle for small birds, such as the tufted titmouse and Carolina wren.

But you don't need such an elaborate set-up to draw birds to your yard, says Abbott. One feeder, stocked with black oil sunflower seed, will do the trick. “Black oil sunflower seed is my favorite seed; it's a good source of high quality protein. And it has a softer outer shell that makes it easier for small birds to eat,” says Abbott.

If you want to attract woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees, consider a second feeder stocked with suet or a product like Bark Butter, which is a spreadable suet that can be smeared on a tree.

Place your feeder near a source of shelter, such as an evergreen tree, but in an area that's open enough that the birds will be able to spot predators. If no natural sources of shelter exist, make a shelter by propping your Christmas tree near the feeder after the holidays, suggests Moor-Orth.

Once you put out the welcome mat you can never be sure who's going to drop by. For example, last year brought a bumper crop of pine siskins to Delaware. These small but feisty birds usually winter in the northern boreal forest of Canada but the seed cone crop was insufficient there so they were forced to travel to Delaware and other southern points. In 2008, red-breasted nuthatches were the surprise visitors at many Delaware feeders, also because of a scarcity of pine cones further north.

Of course, you'll attract some routine visitors to your feeder, too. According to Project FeederWatch, which is sponsored by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the top 10 feeder birds in Delaware backyards last winter were: tufted titmouse, American robin, common grackle, white-throated sparrow, black-capped chickadee and Carolina chickadee (which are often confused with each other), house finch, mourning dove, northern cardinal, American goldfinch and dark-eyed junco.

Article by Margo McDonough

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