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In this photo taken Dec. 8, 2012 in Decatur, Ill. Jacob Etter of Niantic Harristown Cub Scout Pack 91 sets up a bird feeder during the groups visit to the Illinois Raptor Center. Central Illinois is home to a wide variety of wild birds, and those who do their research can attract those birds to their yards by providing the proper food, habitat and protection. (AP Photo/Herald & Review,Jim Bowling)

Seed must match birds you want to feed

January 05, 2013 at 05:23 PM

The Associated Press

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — Central Illinois is home to a wide variety of wild birds, and those who do their research can attract those birds to their yards by providing food, habitat and protection.

If you want cardinals, woodpeckers, goldfinches and songbirds, your best bet is to buy high-quality seed, according to Vickie Vickers Warner, owner of Back Yard Birds, 2920 S. Mount Zion Road, said. Starlings and sparrows aren’t picky and will eat low-cost, low-quality seed, but the other species are more discerning.

“Buy the best food you can afford,” she said. “It does make a huge, huge difference.”

In her store, she has feeders grouped by type to make choosing one or more easy. Cardinals, for example, have to have a tray to perch on. A feeder without a tray won’t attract them because they can’t hang onto the side of a wire feeder as some species can.

Woodpeckers and grosbeaks like platform and hopper feeders. Bluebirds and wrens like meal worms. Hummingbirds and orioles like nectar. And small birds such as finches can be found at almost any kind of feeder.

The configuration of your yard also matters as does where you think you want to put your feeders. One important piece of advice that may seem obvious, but that people might forget to consider, is that you want the feeders in places where you can enjoy watching the birds, without the birds realizing you’re watching them.

“I would find out what their habitat is,” she said. “Do they want to put (feeders) in trees, do they want to use shepherd’s hooks, do they want to hang them off the house?”

Contrary to what you may think, Vickers Warner said, most of the birds stay here during the winter. You might not see them because they flock around places with the food they like and move on when it’s gone.

Downy woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, flickers, Carolina wrens, goldfinches, cardinals, doves - both the smaller gray mourning doves and the larger, lighter ringnecks - stay year-round. Robins and bluebirds sometimes stay, too, if they have a food source.

Black oil sunflower seeds will attract a variety of songbirds, while hulled sunflowers, peanuts, meal worms and suet are big favorites, too.

Nut and berry combinations are a favorite of woodpeckers, whose numbers are declining at an alarming rate, said Jacques Nuzzo of the Illinois Raptor Center. If they vanish, not only will it be a shame in regard to the woodpeckers, but it could have a ripple effect on other species as well.

“They’re cavity builders, the birds that go up to a tree and excavate a cavity because that’s what they’re equipped to do,” Nuzzo said. “It drills a hole, has its babies in the hole and then tends not to reuse the hole. What it does is it created a cavity for secondary cavity nesters, who don’t have capability of building the cavity and depend on woodpecker to do it for them: screech owls, chickadees, bluebirds, they don’t have the ability to build cavity. If you take woodpeckers out of the equation, you’ve got a lot of species who don’t have anywhere to nest.”

The center has several feeders which Nuzzo takes down at night and locks into a shed to discourage raccoons, deer, skunks and other nocturnal creatures. When people call and ask what to do about such animals in their yards, that’s his advice: put feeders away at night.

“If you’re going to set this up and draw wildlife, as much as people tell you you’re going to have control, you don’t have any control,” Nuzzo said. “If you set up feeders you have to be open-minded to the fact that squirrels are going to show up. I’m looking out window now and all I have is squirrels. The birds are sitting in the trees waiting for them to get done.”

As for the daytime creatures — the aforementioned squirrels, or chipmunks, or species of bird that you may not have intended to draw to your yard, and hawks who may pick off a songbird for lunch — there’s not much you can do about that, Nuzzo said.

“My joke is that it is a bird feeder and a Cooper’s hawk is a bird,” he said.



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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