Nature Nut: Feeding the birds

Now that most of the bears are asleep, this is a great time to bring a little bit of nature to your backyard.

Now that most of the bears are asleep, this is a great time to bring a little bit of nature to your backyard. Whether you are a seasoned birder or you just enjoy the antics of our feathered friends, putting a feeder up is a great way to attract winter birds for close-up viewing.

There are a couple of key things to consider before putting up a bird feeder: location, type of feeder, and type of feed.

Place the feeder close to the trunk of a tree, among large, open branches, or elevate it near a tree to make it attractive and accessible to most birds. Putting the feeder in a tree amongst many small branches is great for small birds, but not good for larger birds. Don’t put the feeder in an open location far away from safety cover, unless you are trying to attract birds that eat other birds.

Make sure the feeder is out of reach of deer, cats, dogs and other hazards.

Placing a feeder on a deck or near a window is a nice way to get close and personal, but don’t forget that birds poop! If you don’t want bird poop on your deck or your house, don’t put a feeder too close. If you still want to put a feeder up outside a window, make sure you put something on the glass so the birds know it’s there (like window stickers).

Selecting a feeder can seem daunting as there are so many different models. What you need to know is that there are only a few kinds for winter birds. There are generalist feeders, small seed feeders, and suet feeders.

Generalist feeders can be used with a variety of seeds and are typically characterized by larger openings or trays. These are great for seed mixes or — my personal favourite — black oil sunflower seeds. These feeders can attract a variety of winter birds, and are a great option if you only want to maintain one feeder.

Small seed feeders are mostly used with niger seed and have very small openings. Some with slightly bigger openings can take finch mix, as long as there are no larger seeds in the mix. These feeders only attract birds that like to eat these specific seeds. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while before birds start using this type of feeder. Sometimes they find it right away, and sometimes they don’t. But once they do find it they’ll be back.

Suet feeders are used with suet cakes or plugs, or just hunks of fat, and typically look like a wire cage or wooden block with holes in it to hold the plugs. Many birds like suet, but woodpeckers and jays especially like it. Make sure you put this one up somewhere sturdy if you want to attract these bigger birds.

Try putting up a couple of different kinds of feeders with different seeds and see who shows up. Remember to take your feeder down while the bears are awake. Good luck and happy birding!

Kalista has a diploma in Renewable Resource Management and offers environmental education;  interpretive nature tours; and consulting in native plant landscaping, sustainable living and urban homesteading. Contact her at 250-270-2440 or

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