Plummetting temperatures have got mid-Missourians looking for food for the birds

Friday, December 12, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:17 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

The temperature is dropping and birds are flying south for the winter. But what about the birds that stay in Missouri all winter or those that consider Missouri as far south as they’ll go? With the weather turning cold and the natural bird-food supply getting scarce, many Columbians are now gearing up to feed the birds.

Dee Groeper of Columbia enjoys watching the birds with her husband and grandchildren. She sees cardinals and woodpeckers, but watches and feeds “anything that comes into my yard.”

Because of the increasing scarcity of food, many people set up and prepare their feeders and birdhouses in the fall, says Liz Mitchell, an employee of Songbird Station in Columbia.

There are several different types of bird feeders that supply a variety of food catered to specific breeds of birds.

Feeders that hold nectar are for hummingbirds, a breed that migrates through Missouri from mid-April to mid-October. Orioles, tanagers and house finches might also visit hummingbird feeders. Mitchell says a common misconception about hummingbirds and other migratory birds is that if feeders are not removed from yards, the birds will be tempted to stay instead of migrate.

“The birds pay attention to the length of a day and the quality of the sunlight,” she said. “They know when it is time to move.”


Blue Jay

These members of the crow family eat anything from seeds to table scraps. Loud, bold and gregarious, they tend to frighten other birds away. If you don’t want blue jays to visit your house, post a freely swinging feeding station, which is usually avoided by the jays and allows smaller birds to feed undisturbed.

Suet feeders are much more popular in the winter because of the high energy content of the food inside them. Suet feeders look like a square wire box and are about the size of a CD case, but thicker. Inside, birds find a hodgepodge of seeds, grains, nuts and dried fruits stuck together by suet, peanut butter or gelatin. The resulting treat looks like a solid brick. Suet feeders are often suspended from branches and attract chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers, which remain in Missouri year-round.



These vivid birds are

well-known in Missouri.

While males are a striking red color, females are often a more yellowish-brown.

Cardinals will be one of the first species to discover your feeder. They relish sunflower seeds.

The most basic type of feeder is the hopper feeder. This feeder usually holds large amounts of seeds that spill out into a tray at the bottom of the feeder. Mitchell says that beginning bird-watchers should start with a seed mix that will attract several types of birds. The hopper feeder is conducive to many sizes of seeds, making it perfect for beginners. Once the feeder becomes popular among birds, offer more specific seeds or foods for the type of birds in the neighborhood.


Evening Grosbeak

These large, stocky seed-eaters visit Missouri sporadically throughout winter. Males are brightly colored, and the females are not as vividly marked. Both sexes are about 7 inches long and they both can be distinguished by their thick, ivory-colored bills. Evening grosbeaks are especially fond of sunflower seeds.

The tube feeder is more size-specific. It is a cylindrical feeder with holes in the sides and perches for the birds to rest on while eating. Depending on the size of the holes and length and location of the perches, it can attract several different types of birds. Tube feeders are often filled with thistle and attract house finches, American goldfinches and pine siskins. The holes in the sides of the tube are kept small so that the nyjer seed does not spill onto the ground.


Common Flicker

It is easiest to identify this member of the woodpecker family by the black apron at its chest, its spotted breast and the yellow under the wings and tail.

At 10 inches, it is Missouri’s second largest woodpecker after the pileated. It is not a common bird-feeder species, but sometimes can be found on seed or suet feeders.

One detail that shouldn’t be forgetten is water. Water is important to birds for both drinking and bathing. In order to stay warm in the winter, birds need clean, efficient feathers. To keep water from freezing, set out warm water and change it daily.

A drawback of bird feeding is the inevitable cleanup. Many kinds of birdseeds come in shells that the birds don’t eat, which will then pile up on the ground. Chloie Piveral of Songbird Station suggests buying waste-free seeds, which come without shells.

Piveral has been watching birds since she started working at Songbird Station about three years ago. She also enjoys the benefits of being able to relax and watch the birds as she works at her desk at home.

“It makes you feel less alone,” she said. “They also eat bugs and provide entertainment.”

Hawks can be another problem at popular feeders. To get rid of hawks, simply stop putting out bird food for a while. The hawks will move on and your feeder will become safe again.

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