Hanging out with the Birds

By LeAnn Locher, PQ Monthly

During our recent Snowpocalypse 2014! we spent countless hours watching Ice TV, also known as gazing out the window. Seeing the landscape in a totally different way, completely covered in snow and white was mesmerizing, and I could practically feel my blood pressure lowering. A big part of this was watching the birds. The white backdrop showed off every bit of color on a bird, and I was surprised at the diversity that flocked to our backyard. Chickadees, kinglets, towhees and robins were constant fixtures, along with blue jays and Northern Flicker woodpeckers. Of course, there were the hummingbirds as well, up at the crack of dawn fighting among themselves and clicking away at me to get out there with their food. It was a whole world of activity in our garden during a time in which we are rarely in it, but instead look out upon it, and the birds lit everything up.

Are you feeding backyard birds? You should. Here are some tips.

We feed in three different ways: bird food seed, suet, and hummingbird food. Each attracts different kinds of birds.

Feeding with bird food:  There are many different kinds of feeders and they vary in price range. The thing I look for is ease of use to fill: Is it easy to pull the top off and fill with food? Is there an overhang on the top to protect the food from our wet climate and rain? Is there any protection from squirrels? As for the food itself, I look for non-sprouting seed, and a mix made specifically for our Northwest birds.

Keep the extra bird food in a tightly sealed container to prevent attracting unwanted rodents. Keeping a scoop in the container is handy and makes filling the feeders that much easier.

Feeding with suet: Suet blocks are a mix of fat and seed that you buy or make and hang in a suet cage. These Bird_in_Snow_for cultivating lifeattract different kinds of birds, and many a time I’ve glanced over at movement in the garden to discover a suet feeder is completely covered with a flock of a dozen tiny bushtits, all feeding together. I mainly hang suet during the cold months because suet melts at higher temperatures. Check out the upside down starling-resistant suet feeders, and consider using hot suet, made with hot pepper oil. Birds love it, but squirrels don’t.

Feeding hummingbirds: Hummingbird feeders are usually bright red and are designed to simulate flowers where they sip their nectar. I’ve found the more simple the feeders, the easier they are to clean and fill. During freezing weather, bring in the feeder after dark and set your alarm for early morning to return the feeder outdoors. Hummingbirds remember where their food comes from, and our overwintering Anna’s hummingbirds are smart and territorial, depending on us to feed them when everything is covered in snow. Hummingbird food is easy to make: Combine 4 cups of water to 1 cup of sugar, bring to a boil and let cool. No need to use red food dye or buy hummingbird food: Keep it simple and the hummingbirds will hang out year round. If you have hummers dueling it out to use the feeder, hang another in a different part of the garden. They’re territorial and don’t always like to share.

For all of your feeders, hang them where you can see them from inside. If you can, under a tree canopy but at least 5 feet from the ground will be ideal: Keeping them less exposed to the elements, and high enough away from predators.

Things not to do:

•   Don’t use untreated wood for birdfeeders. It gets damp and molds and is more of a mess than it’s worth.

•   Don’t feed the squirrels. Those sweet little peanuts the neighbor puts out for them end up buried in my garden: ick.

•   Don’t feed the crows with leftover bread. They come and stay in masses, scaring away all of the other birds, leaving poop everywhere they congregate.

I haven’t taken inventory of all of the birds visiting this season, but I am loving the rush of activity out in the garden when I’m barely in it. At least someone’s enjoying it this time of year.

LeAnn Locher gardens and explores the home arts in North Portland. Connect with her and other home arts badasses at facebook.com/sassygardener