Birding: What you feed impacts what you see
This weekend I had an amazing experience when I went to a customer’s home to make a delivery. When I arrived, the customer asked if I wanted to sit for a moment and enjoy the bird activity in her yard. Before I knew it, at least 45 minutes had passed!
There was so much activity it was hard to know where to focus my attention. I am sure we easily saw at least 20 species, including hummingbirds, western bluebirds, mountain chickadees, white-breasted and pygmy nuthatches, black-headed grosbeaks and more acorn woodpeckers than you could shake a stick at.
Why were there so many different varieties of birds, and why were there so many birds? There are two reasons. One is certainly the habitat, as the home is situated in an area with ponderosa pines, oaks and has a meadow nearby. The second reason is the quality, quantity, and variety of food sources offered.
I counted over 30 bird feeders in the yard, including numerous suet feeders, seed feeders, meal worm feeders, nectar feeders, and of course, water sources. With so many different styles of feeders and different types of food offered, the homeowner’s efforts appealed to a large variety of bird species.
And it wasn’t just birds that were taking advantage of all of that food and water. While there, I saw three different squirrel species — Abert’s, Arizona gray and rock.
I also had a home visit in Flagstaff this week. One thing each of these two homes had in common was mealworms. I realize that putting out either live or dried mealworms is not everyone’s thing. However, if you are willing to provide mealworms, they are sure to bring a variety of interesting birds, depending on where you live and what your habitat is like.
Ultimately, what you feed in your yard has a direct relationship to what you see in your yard. I know sometimes it is hard to balance the cost of quality wild bird products and living within a budget. However, most people have learned that if they avoid inexpensive box store bird seed, which has filler ingredients, they actually attract a wider variety, and a larger number of birds to their yard.
My personal philosophy on bird feeding is somewhat akin to pet ownership. If you own a cat or a dog, do you purchase the cheapest food you can find, or do you feed your pet the best brand that you can reasonably afford?
Here is my argument for feeding quality wild bird food. When you feed wild birds, it is like pet ownership in the sense that you have willingly taken on the responsibility of providing food. Better food equates to better quality of life and might help with longevity and breeding success.
When you purchase pet and wild bird food products, there should be a label on the package with a guaranteed analysis statement. By law, it should show the minimum amount of fat and protein, and the maximum amount of crude fiber.
I would encourage you to read the label on wild bird food. If you see ingredients such as milo or wheat, I would recommend steering away from it. You should expect to pay more for quality wild bird food just as you would expect to pay more for quality pet foods. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.
I am happy to announce that we just received a new shipment of nyjer seed, and our costs went down. We have, in turn, lowered our price — passing the savings on to our customers. This way you can afford to feed those flying pigs without going broke!
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.