Birds are migrating right now, and while most people feed birds through the winter it’s not a bad idea to start a little early while they are migrating. They’ll appreciate the pit stop to be able to pack in more fat and calories, have a bath and a good long drink! Plus, a certain number will decide to stop and stay with you for the winter.
I feed birds year-round, and I always credit them with keeping vegetable and flower pests under control, especially fleas. I know they also peck around through the grass eating fleas. Those starlings and grackles who march around on your lawn? They’ll happily eat fleas. Robins in the spring? Fleas don’t stand a chance. Songbirds that eat insects? Fleas are a natural part of their diet.
So put out your feeders early, while the migrants are arriving and food is still plentiful so they’ll settle in more readily, using as much black oil sunflower seed as possible since it’s the universal favorite of birds which commonly visit feeders and gives the most energy for the energy expended to open the seed and eat it.
If they aren’t finding your feeders try adding a suet cake to the display. Suet cakes aren’t just for winter feeding—they provide concentrated high-protein, high-energy food that’s easy to eat and easy to digest. Birds not only need this to keep warm in the winter, but also while they travel hundreds of miles each day to reach their winter destination, often without stopping at all. In fact, a recent study of migrating Swainson’s thrushes shows that birds pack in the fat not only to sustain energy while traveling, but also to provide water without stopping to drink. Suet cakes won’t melt in warm weather, so don’t worry about a mess. If you can’t find suet cakes yet, or find they are a little expensive, I have a recipe for homemade ones, though these may soften if temperatures rise above 80 degrees or they are in direct sun for some time.
But a water source is just as important as the food and even more of an attractant, since flowers and seeds and insects are everywhere, but water sources can be scarce. You can keep your birdbath going until the temperatures drop below freezing, or if you have a special watering station you use in winter you can set it out now so they become accustomed to it.
Don’t worry that feeding birds will take away their interest in their natural diet—most studies show that birds get about 10% of their total food intake from seed feeders. Feeding them while migrating helps reduce mortality. And if insects are their diet, they’ll still happily devour any insect that visits your yard, including those that hatch on a warm day!
Plus, they’ll provide lots of entertainment for your cats, which might sound like a luxury but it’s a very important element in an indoor cat’s daily life. Don’t forget, it’s Happy Health Cat Month, and keeping them naturally entertained and flea free keeps them both happy and health!
For more information on bird feeding and Backyard Wildlife Habitats, visit my Backyard Wildlife Habitat page.
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