We have had a small wildlife feeding station just outside the kitchen window for many years. It has given our family hours of enjoyment each week watching and learning about some of the neighborhood wildlife.
The feeding station also has served as a lifeline during inclement weather for many birds and other wild animals. Winterlike weather brought both gray and red squirrels, eastern chipmunks, and at least 15 bird species to our feeding station near Lake Waconia starting in mid-October. Opossums, flying squirrels, short-tailed shrews, cottontail rabbits and even an ermine could appear at anytime.
Setting up a feeding station can be quite easy. All that is needed is some food and a feeder or two. You can scatter food on the ground in sheltered places, including under feeders. The feeders should be in spots where there is shelter, but also where you can see the visitors easily from a window in your home.
Shelter includes woody plants such as trees and shrubs, especially evergreens, and brush piles — all places to get away from wind, rain, snow, and enemies.
The feeders themselves can be simple trays, a hopper or tube feeder. We use a triple shepherd hook pole with a squirrel guard to hold three feeders. We put sunflower seeds minus the hulls in the feeders and scatter cracked corn on the ground below and another spot nearby to simplify feeding.
Yes, the northern cardinals join the juncos, American tree sparrows, mourning doves, blue jays and squirrels on the ground, eating the cracked corn with gusto. Black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, American goldfinches, woodpeckers, and more head for the sunflower pieces in the feeders. They spill some and that is also eaten by the ground feeders.
Another popular bird food is beef suet. The white hard suet is available at most meat counters or in suet cake mixes, and can be hung in mesh holders out of the reach of dogs. Suet is a good energy source for birds. It’s a favorite of the woodpecker clan, but is also eaten by nuthatches, chickadees, and others.
Heated birdbaths also help attract wild mammals and birds. Immersion heaters designed to keep both baths and drinkers ice-free work well. People often ask why some birds bathe in freezing weather. To keep warm, their feathers must be efficient, and to have efficient feathers a bird must go through the preening ritual that often begins with a bath.
Jim Gilbert’s observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota.