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Bird watching, feeding big part of Utah recreation picture

Utah State University Extension

In 2006, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service reported that more than 67 million Americans enjoyed watching wildlife around homes. Of the Americans, 55 million participated in feeding wildlife, with most feeding birds. In all, more than $46 billion was spent watching wildlife with $4 billion spent on bird feeders and seeds, and more than $1.6 billion on plantings for wildlife.

In Utah, for the same period, more than 1.1 million residents participated in related activities like hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. More than 77 percent were wildlife watchers who spent more than $260 million to pursue the activity. Of the total, $55 million was spent specifically on equipment to include bird seed and feeders, pointed out Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist.

Research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established standards and guidelines regarding what birds prefer to eat. Scientists evaluated bird preferences for cracked corn, milo, sunflower, wheat, oats, thistle and suet, continued Messmer. The agency also established guidelines regarding where and how the feed should be placed.

According to the USU Extension specialist, the following methods and descriptions can help Carbon County residents in planning winter bird feeding banquets:

•Using black-oil sunflower seed in a hopper or tube feeder with and without trays.

If people plan to use one type of feeder and feed one type of seed, this is probably the best option to attract the greatest diversity of birds.

When purchasing tube feeders people might want to look for products with metal ports around the seed dispensers if squirrels are present.

Squirrels will have a tougher time chewing through metal than plastic.

Feeders should be placed at least five feet off the ground. To reduce collisions, they should not be too close to large windows, but close enough to allow viewing.

Birds dispense the feed by hopping on the feeder trigger that releases seeds. Birds reported to frequent these banquets include finches, jays, chickadees, gold finches, pine siskins, redpolls, nuthatches, woodpeckers and various sparrows.

•Using cracked corn in platform feeders. This may attract magpies, grackles, jays, starlings, crows, brown-headed cowbirds, pheasants, juncos and sparrows.

Attracting some of these birds can be a problem since the larger birds may out-compete smaller birds and even prey on them. Also, cracked corn in platform feeders is vulnerable to rot because it soaks up moisture. Consider feeding small amounts mixed with millet.

•Using millet (milo) wheat and oats in platform feeders. This may attract the same type of birds as the cracked corn, in addition to other uninvited guests. You can often find these mixed in some of the lower priced birdseeds.

Often, birds will pick though the mixtures and select the food they like, leaving leftover seed to fall. Mice, voles, rats, squirrels, rabbits and even wild turkeys could be attracted to the site. Most platform feeders are simple screen-bottomed trays that can either be placed several inches off the ground, on poles or fastened to an outdoor deck.

The feeder design helps keep seed and bird droppings from mixing. Ground feeding tables should be placed in open areas at least 10 feet from the nearest tree or shrub to give birds a chance to flee predators.

People should avoid using ground or deck platform feeders by shrubs as they make good hiding spots for cats.

•Using suet feeders or trees smeared with peanut butter or suet. This may attract insect-eating birds, including woodpeckers, flickers, jays, nuthatches, goldfinches, chickadees, brown creepers, kinglets, wrens and possibly starlings.

The suet or peanut butter should be placed at least five feet from the ground to keep it out of the reach of dogs.

People should not use suet when temperatures warm since it can turn rancid.

•Using thistle in socks, tube feeders or platform feeders with fine mesh. This may attract finches, pine siskins, chickadees, juncos, jays, goldfinches, redpolls and various winter sparrows.

The type of bird seed is typically the most expensive.

People should not confuse it with prickly thistle, a pink-flowered weed considered a noxious weed in Utah. Some feeders are designed to dispense only thistle seed. These feeders have tiny holes that make the seed available only to small-beaked birds.

For the best results, people should hang thistle feeders from a tree or place it on a 5-foot pole near other feeders.

•Using whole peanuts in a tube or whole and crushed peanuts in platform feeders. This may attract chickadees, juncos, finches, sparrows, jays, titmice, grackles, nuthatches, brown creepers, woodpeckers and starlings.

Recent studies estimate that as many as one billion birds die from flying into windows each year, pointed out Messmer. To minimize the risk, people should place feeders three to four feet away from a window.

Wind socks or other decorations hung outside the windows near the feeders may also help reduce the risk.

Carbon County residents may want to consider hanging fine plastic mesh in front of the problem window to provide a collision safety net and placing feeders at different levels.

Sparrows, juncos and towhees usually feed on the ground, while finches feed in shrubs, and chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers feed in trees. To mitigate crowding and attract a greater diversity of bird life, consider using platform feeders for ground feeding birds, hopper or tube feeders for shrubs and treetop feeders and suet feeders well off the ground for woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees.

Cats kill millions of birds annually. The greatest risks felines pose are from pouncing on ground-feeding and birds dazed after hitting a window. Bells on cat collars are not effective because felines are too stealthy, concluded Messmer.

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