Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
The seed you feed birds does has a shelf life. It will go stale. A reader asked that question recently. For an answer I called Melissa Block, manager of the All-Seasons Wild Bird Store in Wayzata. She told me that seeds do lose nutritional value as they age. Sunflower kernels, the nuts inside the shell, dry out, losing nutrients. Thistle seed has the same problem. She tells her customers to buy no more seed than they can use in six to eight weeks. She also said that the birds will know if your seed is worth eating or not. It they're not attending your feeders with the same frequency and in the same numbers this week as last, replace the seed. Clean the feeder, and fill it with seed just purchased. She said that where you buy seed and how it's packaged is an issue. Buy from stores where stock frequently revolves. I've always believed that the plastic bags of seed you see on super-market shelves are not good buys. The seed mixes often contain filler seeds that most of our feeder birds will not eat. And now, consider how long those bags might have been on that shelf.
Feeder birds, like this Black-capped Chickadee with the sunflower seed in its bill, know good, fresh seed from stale seed.
During this cold spell be certain to keep your birds feeders full. Birds need all the energy they can get to survive near-zero temps, particularly with strong winds. Black oil sunflower seeds are highly nutritious. Suet is good, too. Birds also need water in cold weather.
This cat came out of the swamp behind our house Monday morning, spending much of the day below our yard-based bird-feeding rig. I chased it back into the brush twice, but the cat came back. I think it's a feral animal. I've not see it around here before. It's gone feral or its owner lets it outside, a bad idea. Cats kill birds and other small animals. They also get eaten by coyotes and hit by cars. It's best for everyone if cats stay indoors. For a very graphic depiction of the damage cats do, take a look at what I found to be an entertaining and novel way of making the point. The address is http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill
While in California over the holidays we came upon a woman who feeds 47 feral cats. I was polite, though doubtful when she said she fed her wards so well that they did not hunt. She told us the cats wander in to join the herd. She takes each newcomer, she said, to the vet for vacinations and neutering. That's a necessity if one is to feed feral cats, but hardly a solution for the killing they instinctively do, full tummies or not. All cats belong indoors. Having 47 indoors, however, is likely to get you in the newspaper sooner or later.
Here's the animal that has been pestering us.
Common Redpolls, one of the northern finch species making major appearance in Minnesota this winter, are being seen throughout the metro area. They've been seen north of us since late fall, but not this far south in the numbers people have been reporting in the past two or three days. They arrived in our yard Monday, and continued to flock to our feeders Tuesday. We probably had two dozen redpolls on and off from dawn to late afternoon. They were eating black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower chips, and niger thistle seed. Keep an eye on your feeders. Redpolls are cool little birds, emphasis on little. They're a bit smaller than American Goldfinches. The redpoll below was perched on our deck railing, waiting its turn at our new feeder.
We've setup a new feeder on our deck, a three-tube squirrel-proof (so they say) rig we bought at Ace Hardware in Maple Plain. Once the animal is in eating position, the squirrel's weight slides feeder ports closed. Stout wire mesh hopefully will prevent gnawing damage. We've not had a squirrel-proof feeder before because, frankly, I didn't want to pay as much as they cost. This one, however, was $19.95, a price that would be very good without the squirrel feature. In fact, it was a ridiculously low price. We bought two, one as a gift. We bought 50 pounds of black oil seed while we were there, also for $19.95, the lowest price we've paid in years. So, we bought two of those as well, one as a gift.
Yesterday, cardinals appeared at our feeders at the exact time the sun set, making me wonder just how precise these birds can be, favoring twilight for afternoon feeding and hitting it perfect. Today the sun set at 4:32 p.m. The first cardinals arrived at 4:09. Precision isn't everything.
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