Guest Author - Lisa Shea
Make a Habitat: This is definitely true. My neighbors have one feeder on a pole stuck in the middle of their quite barren and grassy lawn. Sure, they get an occasional bird, but when you look at my yard there are over 50 birds swooping and swirling. A mere few hundred yards apart. What's the difference? I have lots of trees and bushes. I place the feeders near them - far enough so cats can't lurk there, close enough that they can flee to safety if they need to. I have stone walls and brambles and old trees and new growth. A variety of cover and perch and nooks.
Bushes and Shrubs that Birds Love
Feed and Water Them: Don't just put out plain seed! Birds have a variety of appetites. Put out sunflower seeds, make suet, buy thistle, stick out oranges and apples and raisins. Who knows what you'll find! We put out grape jelly one time and got a catbird for the season. Make sure you add water to the offering. Try to keep non-frozen water in the winter months and see how many extra birds you get.
Attracting Birds with Food Choices
Don't Worry About Vacations: There are many people who say, "Don't start if you can't feed them every day". These are not infant children we're talking about who cannot feed themselves. Birds have fed themselves before they found your feeder, and even while they eat there they also eat other places. There are many studies that show birds will adapt and find a new food source. Don't believe the chat room discussions where people swear the birds will all drop dead.
If you're gone in winter, ease off a little beforehand just in case there's a snowstorm and the birds are completely unprepared, but other than that, you should be fine. Definitely do not completely avoid starting a feeder because you're afraid you won't be there 365 days a year.
Don't Worry about Metal Bars: Here is another "myth" - birds get their eyes and feet stuck on metal bars (more than other types of bars) in the winter. I've heard this from some semi-reputable sources. My checks with bird doctors, though, say that the only times birds have gotten stuck on metal objects, they have also been stuck on wood and plastic objects. It only occurs when birds are sick to begin with - a healthy bird would never put his eye onto anything (much like a human), and their feet are normally quite dry. The bird often dies against the bar and then becomes stuck.
Don't Worry about Peanut Butter: This one seemed the most strange. I always put out suet with peanut butter and shortening and the birds love it. Somehow a rumour started that birds choke on the peanut butter. Apparently someone found a dead bird with its mouth full of peanut butter. This story has a "side story" - the "my feeder must be poisoned, birds die near it sometimes".
Actually, when a bird is sick he goes for easy food (a la the feeder) instead of hard food (insects and moving things). So birds that die near your feeder were probably just sick and came for the food. The doctors I've read have investigated hundreds of bird deaths and, while some of them had had peanut butter as their last meal, none had actually "choked to death" on it. It just happened to be what they ate while they were sick.