Feed your feathered friends

Published 9:02 pm Tuesday, December 27, 2016

By Susan and Biff Andrews

Forty pounds of black oil sunflower seeds costs about $15 at Tractor Supply. A case of eight or 10 suet cakes costs about $7 at Walmart. So the cost for putting out suet and seeds for the birds for two months is less than the cost of a dinner and a movie for one person — and they are entertaining in all the daylight hours for months on end.

Our suet cakes hang on the tree trunks outside our kitchen and living room windows, about 10 feet from the house.

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Our major clients are red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees.

The red heads on the red-bellied woodpeckers are glowing neon red, especially the males. The red dots on the back of downy’s heads are equally striking, but have none of the neon quality.

The black and white patterns on their backs, however, are bold and intricate. Mother Nature is as complex with the downy’s back as with the wings of a monarch butterfly.

We call the nuthatches our VMI cadets, as they dress in grey, white and black. They are almost always head down.

But my personal favorites are the chickadees. I gave up trying to figure out whether they’re black-capped or Carolina. They are tiny, fearless, bold and ubiquitous. Their tiny beaks reach through the steel grate of the suet feeder just far enough to get an itty-bitty dab of suet.

Squirrels try to feed off the suet cakes, but they’re physically unsuited for getting through the steel grating. We don’t worry about them on the seed feeders, either. Our seed feeders have the steel grate, too, so they can get just one seed at a time.

Our seed feeders hang out over an abyss, suspended by slender steel fishing leader (squirrels will cut through 50 pound test mono like it’s cooked spaghetti). We have a cat who wishes they were more accessible.

So the feeders are safe from the cat and most squirrels, but readily accessible to all manner of passerine birds. “Passerine” birds are perching birds.

Right now we’re swamped with finches — goldfinches — but they won’t turn gold (the males) until about March. Then there are grosbeaks. And grackles. And starlings. Cardinals. Wrens. More chickadees. Sparrows. Tufted titmice. The occasional warbler.

It’s an absolute Who’s Who of little birds.

If you throw out some of the cheap “mixed seed” on the ground, juncos, more sparrows, robins, mourning doves, etc. will come to feed. Later in the spring, hang the fine wire mealy-worm feeder out, and any bird with babies will be ever so grateful.

We also get a 10-pound bag ($7) of “wildlife nuts” from Wakefield Peanuts, and they keep the bluejays, cardinals, grackles and so on happy for a month.

Again, it’s a constant show. You actually get to know and recognize individual birds like they were family. And watching the different birds arrive and leave — and in some cases change color in between — makes one aware of the changes in season.

And then there are the birds on the lake, but that’s another article altogether.

Feed your feathered friends this winter.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.