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Wed, Nov. 13

Column: Changing seasons, changing bird diets

As you may imagine, we field a lot of questions here at the Bird Barn, such as "When will the finches be leaving?," or "When should I take down my hummingbird feeder?"Probably the most significant function we provide is giving people knowledgeable advice on what ingredients they should be feeding in their yard based on habitat, and what bird species occur in their area.I often tell customers that they will know if they are feeding the right type of seed mixture for their habitat if after the birds have eaten, all of the ingredients are gone. If there is a lot of any one kind of seed left over after the birds have had their fill, then you might be feeding the wrong blend for where you live.Now, you might be wondering where I am headed with this explanation. As the seasons change, it is a good time to revisit what you are feeding in your yard and maybe tweak it ever so slightly for the different kinds of birds that will be coming to your yard as a result of fall migration.The types of feed being consumed changes because different kinds of birds will be frequenting your feeder in fall and winter than what you had in spring and summer. For example, it has been my experience that white-proso millet consumption goes down in the summertime, but increases in the fall and winter months. Millet is preferred by ground feeding birds such as towhees, Mourning Dove and Gambel's Quail, which are here year-round.But in the fall, White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos show up, and both of these species like millet. Because each of these species is gregarious and occurs in small flocks, millet consumption picks up when these species arrive.Black-oil Sunflower seed is the number one seed preferred by the widest variety of wild birds. The demand for this seed is fairly constant year-round. Keep feeding it!This past week I made a small change in my yard to adjust for the seasonal change in bird behavior by refilling my three suet feeders. I choose not to feed suet during the summertime, but in anticipation of the return of several winter visitors such as Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, I filled my feeders.I am also gradually phasing out my hummingbird feeders. At the peak of the hummingbird season I had nine feeders out. I am now down to four. There is no set answer for when to take down your hummingbird feeder - some people even leave one up all winter long! I personally taper off until I have one feeder left by about mid-October, then I take it down by Nov. 1.As far as the Lesser Goldfinches go, well, my crystal ball is a little cloudy on my predictions on their numbers. Last winter goldfinch numbers were way down, but we did have good numbers of Pine Siskins, who also like the nyjer/thistle seed.Generally speaking, as the days get shorter and cooler, it won't be long before goldfinch numbers start to thin out. Lesser Goldfinches are a partial-migrator, so part of the population will move south, and some will stay. I recommend keeping your thistle feeder filled and just see what happens with the goldfinch numbers.One thing that does not change with the seasons is the need to provide a source of water for wild birds. Even if you don't put out bird seed, just providing water will attract wild birds to your yard, so keep doing that.Until next week, happy birding!Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, located at 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott. Eric has been an avid birder for over 40 years. If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds, which you would like discussed in future articles, e-mail Eric at Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.
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