Habitat is the first necessity for birds. Once this is present, other practices and devices are successful in increasing bird populations. Feeding, particularly winter feeding, is valuable in attracting and holding birds. Food, of course, brings birds to locations where bird students can study and enjoy them. Feeding also keeps birds alive and healthy during severe weather, putting them in better condition for the breeding season. There are some basic principles to be followed for best results in winter feeding. Once winter feeding is started, it should be continued until late spring.
The following is a list of the foods eaten by different bird species. Nutmeats are choice foods for cardinals, catbirds, chickadees, crossbills, goldfinches, grosbeaks, nuthatches, titmice, woodpeckers, jays and juncos. Dry seeds such as corn, grasses and weeds are eaten by bobwhites, cardinals, doves, goldfinches, grackles, jays, juncos, pheasants, redpolls, siskins, sparrows of all kinds, thrashers and towhees. Berries and fruits are important foods to bluebirds, catbirds, flickers, mockingbirds, robins, thrashers and thrushes.
Many birds have specialized food habits and unless these are met, they won't be present at a feeding station. For example, dried or fresh fruit is necessary to attract summer birds like mockingbirds, thrushes, waxwings and other fruit eating birds. Suet is taken by nuthatches, woodpeckers and other birds that feed on insects and insect grubs during winter.
Some birds are omnivorous; they will eat almost anything. Others are highly specialized in their feeding and will come to a feeding station only when their particular foods are available.
Birds also eat many of the same foods humans eat. Apple is widely used by fruit eaters and many other species; American cheese is favored by chickadees, mockingbirds and brown thrashers; corn is widely used and an excellent source of energy during severe cold weather; cornbread is favored by many of the most popular feeder visitors; dried currants and raisins are important to all the fruit eaters, especially bluebirds, robins, catbirds and mockingbirds; doughnuts are well liked by many regular feeder visitors; peanuts and peanut butter are both widely used and an excellent source of energy.
Mixed bird seed containing many seeds and grains is important to the vast number of seed eaters present over winter; pumpkin seeds are widely eaten by many birds; beef suet is important to a large number of birds, especially to insect eaters; oatmeal is popular food and sunflower seed is a favorite food, although an expensive one.
By varying the kinds of food, it is possible to attract preferred species of birds. It is also possible to partially control the birds visiting feeders by the type of feeder used and the manner of erecting it.
A game bird feeding station maintained in dense protective cover such as a briar patch benefits local game bird populations when it is continued throughout the winter. Ear corn is excellent fare. It may be placed on the ground or stuck on nails or stakes to keep it above the snow.
An easy way to feed is to place the food on the ground. This will attract all ground feeding birds. Preferred species can be attracted and unwanted ones discouraged by varying the foods offered. Table scraps attract starlings so eliminate scraps to discourage these pests. When ground feeding is done, scatter the feeding sites so timid birds are able to feed.