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Upsides to Winter Feeding
December 15, 2008

The weather seems to be messing with everyone now.

Snow in New Orleans and Houston................

Ice storms in the New England area..............

Ya gotta love it.

At home, we've had a mixed bag this past week.

Rain, freezing rain, snow, cold and a day with temperatures in the 40's.

We even managed to get some sunshine.

When the sun is shining, you can tell the difference in everyone, as attitudes improve.

Life would be pretty boring if everything stayed the same, including the weather.

Back to reality this week, however.

I'm getting buried with seed catalogs now.

You too?

That's a good thing however, as they will occupy some time in the next couple of months as a thumb through them over and over again and make plans for spring.

The wish list is always bigger than what can be (a future newsletter or two).

Bird activity varies so much from day to day.

So far this early winter I have a Red bellied woodpecker that has become a regular visitor.

It was funny as I watched her try to fend off three Blue-jays at the platform feeder one day.

We get Red bellies from time to time, the this one comes everyday.

I like that.

Ziggy the toy poodle loves the snow.

He bounces around in it like Tigger of Disney fame.

Keet tolerates the blanket of white.

Bird feeders make a wonderful gift.

If you are asking for or giving a new feeder for Christmas, try to make it a functional and practical feeder.

One that will last for years and easy for you and the birds.

You may want to brush up on bird feeders for a quick refresher course.

Advent In The Home

"The Coming of the Light"

Advent season starts 4 Sundays before Christmas.

The first Sunday in Advent.

"The Promise of the Light."

This candle signifies the prophets hopes and prayers.

The second Sunday in Advent (Dec 7).

"The Light is Come."

This candles signifies the stable birthplace of the Christ Child.

The third Sunday.

"The Shepherds Find the Light."

This candle represents the good news the angels sang to all people.

The fourth Sunday in Advent (The Sunday Before Christmas).

"Wise Men Worship Jesus, the Light."

This candle signifies the worship and gifts of the wise me.

This is a busy time of year for everyone, so let's get to the task at hand.

Winter Bird Feeding.


A few weeks ago I wrote on preparing for winter.

This time its on feeding and what to offer and why.

Okay, so it's not a totally new topic, but readers come and go.

Besides, there just might be somthing new for you.

As you know, winter is the season for feeding birds all across North America and many parts of Europe.

Especially in those regions where it gets mighty cold and snowy.

If you are a veteran bird feeder, you've probably gained lots of insight into the foods your backyard birds prefer.

You may have learned through trial and error, or perhaps you did your homework and read up on the subject.

If you are just getting started in bird feeding, or if you are frustrated by a lack of success in attracting birds to your feeders, you need to determine whether you are feeding the right foods and your feeder locations.

If you are not offering the birds what they want and need, you might not have many birds.

If your feeders aren't near protection, no matter what you offer, you will see far fewer birds.

Birds use a lot of energy trying to maintain their body temperature (somewhere between 106 and 108 degrees).

The smaller the bird, the more energy required to maintain body heat.

More energy requires more fuel.

Now you understand why it appears that little birds like chickadees and finches are constantly feeding.

We not only feed birds for our pleasure, we help some birds survive those three dog nights and that makes us feel good too.

A three dog night is one so cold, you need to sleep with three dogs to stay warm (in case you didn't know that).

If you were like me, you may have started off feeding birds bread crumbs and maybe some cracked corn.

When I was a boy, I made a very crude platform feeder and ground corn to feed the birds in the winter.

To my delight, the backyard was full of birds.

For the next few years, I grew some corn just to feed the birds.

Did I mention, I ruined mom's hand crank meat grinder doing this?

Mom didn't seem to mind as my parents enjoyed watching the birds as well.

Many birds enjoy bread crumbs (there weren't many leftovers around our house).

That's okay for a quick summer treat.

Though birds may have full bellies, they actually will starve to death filling up on bread for several days.

Bread offers little or no value for birds.

Yes, they will eat it, but starve or freeze (lack of nutrients) in the process.

Save your bread crumbs for the next meat-loaf you make

Feed your birds what they want and need.

Limit the Spread of Disease

There are several communicable diseases that can be spread wherever birds congregate.

These including avian pox, Conjunctivitis (eye disease common with house finches) and Salmonellosis.

The House finch to the left has Conjunctivitis, (it died) most will die from the disease.

The eyes swell and close shut from a sticky puss, just like pink eye for you and me.

If a sick bird appears at a feeder, the feeder should be taken down, emptied and cleaned by dipping it into a bucket containing a mix of 1 part household bleach to 9 parts of warm water.

If you don't have time right now for proper cleaning, spray your feeders well with rubbing alcohol.

If several sick birds are observed at a feeder, the feeder should be taken down for a couple weeks until the birds disperse ( in severe cases, local and state authorities will issue statements to do so).

As natural food sources dwindle, our feeders become the local hangout where germs are passed.

More so in winter than summer.

This is why it is so important to keep your feeders clean.

Here is something for you

Research by the University of Exeter and Queen's University Belfast.

Keep feeding the birds over winter.

The study shows for the first time that the extra food we provide garden birds in winter makes for a more successful breeding season in the spring.

By providing some birds with extra food, such as peanuts, and leaving others to fend for themselves, the of researchers were able to compare productivity between the two groups.

Those that were given extra food laid eggs earlier and, although they produced the same number of chicks, an average of one more per clutch successfully fledged.

Although it was well known that garden feeding helps many birds survive the winter, this is the first time that the benefits to spring breeding and productivity have been shown.

The study shows that birds that receive extra food over winter lay their eggs earlier and produce more fledglings.

Sounds like yet another future letter.

Dr Dan Chamberlain of the British Trust for Ornithology, a collaborator on the project, adds "These results demonstrate that feeding birds in gardens over winter can be vital to their breeding success.

It is highly likely that the benefits of extra food continue year-round, so don't just stock your bird feeders in winter if you want to do the best for the birds in your garden".

Dr Stuart Bearhop of the University of Exeter continued: "The extra food we put out for birds contains fat, protein and carbohydrates, which may make the female bird stronger and more able to produce eggs.

Foods like peanuts and bird seed also include vitamins and minerals, which can also produce healthier eggs and chicks."

It makes sense to me, how about you?

The animal kingdom as a whole eats, not just for energy or because it tastes good.

Animals seem to know what they need (excluding junk food).

Before junk food came along, everything people ate served a purpose.

The same with goes for the "Wild kingdom."

That includes birds as well.

Energy versus vitamins....................

Why not both.

Here are the top feed and seed to offer your feathered friends.

Black-oil sunflower seed.

Bird feeding in North America took a major leap forward when black-oil sunflower became more available in the late 1970's and early 80's.

This seed is the hamburger or peanut butter and jelly of the bird world.

Almost any bird that will visit a bird feeder will eat black-oil sunflower.

Birds that can't crack the seeds themselves will scour the ground under the feeders, picking up bits and pieces.

The outer shell of a black-oil sunflower seed is thinner and easier to crack than gray-striped seed are.

The kernel inside the shell is larger than the kernel inside a white-or gray-striped sunflower seed, so birds get more food, high in oil and protein per seed from black-oil.

This last fact also makes black-oil a better value for you, the seed buyer.

I enjoy watching the birds work over the seeds, don't you?


De-shelled, dry-roasted, and unsalted, peanuts are bird-feeding's hot new trend, at least in North America.

In Europe,(they take their feeding seriously) feeding peanuts has been popular for a long time.

Peanut manufacturers and processors have now identified the bird-feeding market as a good place to get rid of the peanuts that are broken or otherwise unfit for human consumption.

Ask your feed/seed retailer about peanut bits or rejects.

Several major feeder manufacturers now produce sturdy, efficient tube-shaped peanut feeders.

Woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice will readily visit a feeder for this high-protein, high-energy food.

Even cardinals and finches will eat peanuts if offered to them

Nyjer ("Guizotia abyssinica") is Not a thistle at all, it is a family member of the sunflower.

Though it can be expensive, Nyjer, or thistle, seed is eagerly consumed by all the small finches-goldfinches, house, purple, and Cassin's finches, pine siskins, and redpolls.

You need to feed thistle in a thistle feeder of some kind-the two most commonly used types of thistle feeder are a tube feeder with small thistle-seed-sized holes, and a thistle sock.

A thistle sock is a sock-shaped, fine-mesh synthetic bag that is filled with thistle seed.

Small finches can cling to this bag and pull seeds out through the bag's mesh. Two potential problems with thistle

A soft shelled seed, it can go rancid or moldy quickly in wet weather .

All Nyjer seed is imported to North America, and it is sterilized prior to entry into this country.

Cracked corn. Sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves, quail, and squirrels are just a few of the creatures you can expect at your feeders if you feed cracked corn.

Depending on where you live you may also get turkeys, deer and other creatures.

Fed in moderation, cracked corn will attract many feeder species.

I toss cracked corn on the ground under feeders and under some shrubs.

Sparrows (juncos too) Doves, Jays, cardinals and other birds enjoy the maize this way.

Whole kernel corn is eaten by larger birds like jays and turkeys.

Expect some squirrels.

Suet. Most humans don't want a lot of fat in their diet, but for birds in winter, fat is an excellent source of energy.

Ask at your grocery store butcher counter if you don't see packages of suet on display.

No suet feeder?

No problem-just use an old mesh onion bag.

If you want to get fancy with your suet, you can render it.

That is, melt it down to liquid, remove the unmeltable bits, and then allow it to harden; this is best accomplished in a microwave oven.

Rendered suet lasts longer in hot weather, and while it's melted, you can add other ingredients to it

Good mixed seed. Is there such a thing as BAD mixed seed?

You bet!........

Bad mixed seed has lots of filler in it-junk seeds that most birds won't eat.

Bad mixed seed can include dyed seed meant for pet birds, wheat, and some forms of red milo that only birds in the Desert Southwest seem to eat.

Good mixed seed has a large amount of sunflower seed, cracked corn, white proso millet, and perhaps some peanut hearts.

The really cheap bags of mixed seed sold at grocery stores can contain the least useful seeds.

Smart feeder operators buy mixed seed from a specialty bird store or a hardware/feed store operation.

You can even buy the ingredients separately and create your own specialty mix.

Grit Birds need grit to help digest their food.

This time of year, snow covers the ground in many regions and finding some grit is difficult at best.

Mix some crushed oyster shell or even ground up egg shells.

Mix it with your feed or offer a separate bowl.

Many premium blends have grit mixed in.

you may want to read

why birds need grit If you are on a budget, you can train your feathered friends to come when you want them to.

Offer feed at certain times of day.

When it is gone, that's it.

Be sure to offer what they want so they will learn to come (junk food wont get the trick done).

If you need a refresher course on the value of certain feed and seeds, go to Feeding birds and find out about the important nutrients they offer your birds.

In winter, the best time to offer food is morning and in the evening when birds are hungry or need to store up to survive a cold night.

And of course, be sure to offer fresh water no matter where you live.

Thanks to those that mailed me their Christmas memories and traditions.

There is still time if you want to get in on net weeks Christmas letter.

I would really like a few more to really make stand out.

It could be from your childhood.

Times with grandparents, growing up, school plays, anything

Maybe you started a new tradition when you started your family.

Wouldn't you like to share a tiny bit of those traditions or moments?

I'm still in need of a few more Christmas moments from you guys.

We all like to read what other folks do or did.

After all, we're one big family here.

If you would like to help out for the Christmas newsletter, that would be great.

Please mail me a short article on a childhood tradition, special moment or what have you.

I need first name, city you are in or near and State/province.

Come on old time readers.......

How about it newbies?

Well, it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

The real measure of your wealth is how much you'd be worth if you lost all your money.

Bernard Meltzer (1914-) American Law Professor

I am a rich man?

Even without a penny to my name, I am wealthy.

I have reasonable health

I have a wonderful wife and kids

Brothers and a sister

I have a roof over my head

I have friends I love

I have you

I have a Heavenly Father that has given me the best gift of all.

Am I rich.....................

You betcha I am.

I am so blessed

It makes me want to smile right now just thinking about it.

That is something else I have


I don't need money to share to give a smileor make someone smile.

Do you?

Something so easy and free, yet often so priceless.

Smiles are meant to be shared.

They are a form of communication

Start Communicating more

Share your smiles (wealth) with those around you

Smile at a stranger

Tis the season of giving, why not give a big smile

Who knows, you just might confuse someone...................

And that is worth yet another smile.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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