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Sat, Oct. 19

The science of bird-feeding

At a speaking engagement earlier this week, I somehow got on the subject of birdseed. This is a topic I am passionate about, as there really is a science to bird-feeding and attracting birds to your yard. Not all birdseed is the same, and not all birds eat seed.

American robins are a common bird in the Prescott area. Every once in a while, a customer will come into the store and ask, "I saw some robins in my yard. What kind of birdseed should I be using to keep them around?" The truth of the matter is, robins don't eat birdseed!

Bird species preferring a seed diet typically have specific seed preferences. This is the time of year when homeowners want to enjoy having baby quail in their yard. We are frequently asked, "What is the best seed to attract quail to my yard?" The answer is white-proso millet. Fortunately, millet prices - and seed blends containing millet - have dropped a lot from last year. Providing millet is a fairly inexpensive way to attract ground-feeding bird species to your yard. Such species include quail, dove, towhee, junco and sparrows.

When a new customer comes into our store for the very first time and wants to buy birdseed, we always ask where he or she lives. Why is it important to know where the customer lives? The habitat determines what varieties of birds occur in each neighborhood, and we make seed recommendations based on habitat.

Most wild bird species are habitat specific. Different bird species occur in a grassland habitat compared to species in a chaparral habitat, or in a pinyon/juniper habitat, or in a ponderosa pine habitat. Knowing where an individual lives provides us with the information we need to know to make the right seed recommendation.

This is why all of our birdseed blends are mixed right here in Prescott by the amazing men and women who work at YEI! Each seed blend is formulated for the birds that occur in the different habitats that make up the Prescott area. Feeding the right kind of birdseed for where you live will result in attracting not only more birds, but also a wider variety of birds.

For example, the habitat in the Timber Ridge neighborhood off Copper Basin Road is a transition zone with both ponderosa and oak. By using the right seed blend, individuals living in this area can attract some of the following species to their yard: white-breasted and pygmy nuthatches, mountain chickadees, acorn woodpeckers, bridled titmouse and western scrub-jays.

Time of year is another important factor to consider. Knowing the dietary preference of birds in your area allows you to feed the right type of feed during each season of the year. You will see and attract different kinds of birds to your yard throughout the year as the seasons change.

Many backyard bird-watchers in the Prescott area are experiencing this right now as migratory bird species - such as lazuli buntings, western tanagers, black-headed grosbeaks and orioles - are showing up.

I visited a home earlier this week where the homeowners cater to not just seed-eaters, but also to birds preferring fruits and nuts. These homeowners put out grape jelly and fresh grapes and oranges to attract orioles and tanagers, as well as nut cakes for insect-eating birds. Many of our customers provide live mealworms for bluebirds. Also, providing water is always a great way to attract birds to your yard.

Until next week, happy bird feeding!

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2360 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for more than 45 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.

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