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An open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond

Have you ever fed pasta to birds?

Feeding birds unusual things? Like pasta? Why not.

 

Bill Thompson III, editor of the excellent magazine “Bird Watcher’s Digest,” recently offered his readers a list of what he considers tops in the weird-food category. 

 

Meat scraps. This is a clean, safe substitute for road kill. (Road kill is a raptor favorite.) Same content, different source. Put it on a platform where the meat-eating mammals in your backyard can’t get at it. (You might not see these animals, but they are there; most are small and nocturnal.) 

 

Grape jelly. We all know about this as an attractant for orioles and House Finches. We offer our jelly, a spoonful at a time, on a plastic lid, right next to the orange half stuck on a nail. The lid is nailed to a short piece of 1x6 pine into which the nail is pounded. Jam the orange over the nail head.

 

Holiday nuts. The stale nuts, which often are available at the end of the season when your politely offered assortment of nuts has gone pretty much unnoticed. If salty, shake them gently in a paper bag to remove some of the salt.

 

Eggshells. This is an important source of calcium for female birds, particularly in nesting season. Rinse the shells, sanitize them in a 250-degree oven for 20 minutes, and crush them. Scatter them beneath a feeder. Birds will take them year-round.  

 

Grit. Coarse sand is perfect. Put it on your platform feeder, or scatter it on the ground nearby. Lacking teeth, birds grind food in their gizzards, muscular contractions using grit as the grinding medium.

 

Berries. Not store-bought berries. Look for wild berries — sumac and grapes come to mind. If your store berries are overripe, feel free.

 

Pumpkin and melon seeds. Save them, dry them in the oven, and put them on the feeder. If you have a compost pile, you can just toss rinds there. Birds will find them.

 

Pasta. This is one I’ve never heard of. Thompson called it a compost pile revelation. (He lives in the country, by the way, with no municipal compost pickup.) So, leftover (cooked) pasta is just dumped on his pile. He recommends dry weather. He’s seen jays, thrashers, and starlings doing pasta. 

 

Last on his list, built from bottom down, are meal worms. You cannot go wrong with meal worms. Some people use them only in the spring, when insects can be in short supply. Bill writes that the worms are taken by “cardinals, chickadees, titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Chipping, Song, and Field sparrows, and Downy Woodpeckers.” Some feeder operators, he writes, have found that mealworms will attract warblers, vireos, tanagers, and orioles. Any species that forages for larvae and grubs should eat mealworms. Ask your neighborhood wild-bird store about mealworms. Put the worms in a container, like a bowl, with slippery sides so your investment does not crawl away.

 

The magazine’s interesting web site is at www.birdwatchersdigest.com

 

Photo: Meal worms are the target for this chickadee.

 

 

Birds of North America, FREE, on-line, Hennepin County library

The series of booklets offering comprehensive life histories of all North American bird species now can be found and used free of cost, courtesy of the Hennepin County library. All you need it a library card. And that's free, too.

The set is called The Birds of North America.

A year ago I was pleased to tell you that this set of over 700 booklets was available on-line from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology at a modest subscription cost.

Well, free is better. 

The online booklets today have been updated and improved. There is text, of course, but also photos and video with the promise of new material as available. Contents can be described as basically everything known about a particular species, biology and behavior. To access this material, or to get your card, go to hclib.org. At the top of the home page you are asked to name the library section to search -- catalog, website, events. Choose website, keyword Birds of North America. There it is.

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