Interacting with backyard birds benefits children on many levels, including teaching them the responsibility of caring for other living things to nurturing their appreciation of nature. Fall and winter are the perfect times to introduce kids to backyard bird care; as food sources dwindle in their natural habitat, birds will frequent a backyard where feeders serve up seed and suet daily.
The wild-bird experts at Cole's Wild Bird Products offer some guidance for families launching bird feeding lessons:
Different bird species like different types of feeders, but some styles, such as tube feeders, will attract a large variety of birds. Basic bird feeder styles include:
* Tube -- Best for serving seed, tube feeders keep the contents clean and dry, providing birds with access to the food through feeding ports. They're great all-purpose feeders and will attract the most variety of songbirds. It's important to clean tube feeders regularly, so choose a model that's easy to clean. Some feeder bottoms pop off with the push of a button.
* Bowl feeders -- If separating seeds into different feeders gets too complicated, bowl feeders can be an all-in, easy solution. They can accommodate a variety of feed types, from seed and suet to mealworms, fruits and nuts. Bowl feeders are especially good starter feeders for children since they are easy to fill and clean.
* Suet feeders -- During cold winter months, suet is an essential source of energy for birds. Suet feeders can range from a simple mesh onion bag to a wire or plastic mesh box that affixes to a tree or post. Woodpeckers, warblers, nuthatches, titmice, jays and chickadees love suet.
Whatever styles of feeder you choose -- and a mix is ideal -- be sure to select feeders that are sturdy enough to withstand winter weather and unwanted visitors, like squirrels. They should be tight enough to keep seeds dry, and easy to disassemble for cleaning. Most importantly, keep them maintained and stocked -- if you neglect to feed them, birds will go elsewhere.
In order to attract birds, it's important to serve high-quality food. Seed blends with too much cheap seed, known as fill, won't satisfy birds, and you'll end up with a mound of discarded fill under feeders and few feathered friends in your backyard. Here are some basic foods that birds look for in winter:
* Suet -- Long gone are the days when serving suet was a messy proposition. Kids can serve suet without messing up their little hands when you choose convenient suet cakes, kibbles, nuts and pearls. Many of these suet options are mixed with other treats birds love, such as nuts, grains and berries. You can even find options with habanero pepper infused in the fat to dissuade squirrels from dining on the suet. Some blends mix human-grade cherries, apples and blueberry-flavored cranberries, preferred nuts, nutritious insect suet kibbles and whole kernel sunflower meats into an energy-packed, powerhouse feed.
* Seed -- Many songbirds favor seeds, and in winter it can be difficult for birds to find seeds in nature. From black oil sunflower seeds to seed mixes, it's important to serve a variety of high-quality seeds. Choose mixes with large proportions of sunflower seeds and avoid ones with fillers like wheat, milo and corn; birds will pick out the appealing seeds and kick out the filler.
* Dried mealworms -- Although the name might imply an "ick factor" that appeals to kids, serving dried mealworms is easy and mess-free. High in protein, mealworms are favored by bluebirds, flickers, woodpeckers, siskins and nuthatches. Plus, you don't have to feed them or keep them in the fridge like with live mealworms.
Introducing kids to backyard bird-feeding is an enjoyable and easy way to connect families with nature -- and to each other. All you'll need is a feeder, bird feed and some time. The birds will come, kids will surely enjoy the experience, and you'll all have some good family fun.