Seeds as a source of food

Feeders ©Janet AllenAn assortment of feeders

We generally provide seed for the usual birdfeeders: a couple for sunflower seeds and safflower seeds and a few for thistle seeds (depending on the number of finches for any given year).

We often also provide cracked corn and corn kernels— not exactly seeds, but the same general category.

It's fun to watch birds at feeders, and I like to provide the little extra food that will get them through the year. We provide fewer seeds in the summer months, though. There's plenty of food around—especially in our yard!

Keeping feeders clean

Cleaning the feeder ©Janet AllenThis kind of feeder is easy to clean

Dirty feeders can make birds sick, especially in chilly winter weather, so we try to wash our feeders monthly in a light (1:9) beach-water solution. (Washing them every two weeks is recommended, but we haven't managed that yet.)

It's easy in the summer when we can do this outside, but in the winter, we wash them in the dixie tubs in the cellar. After rinsing thoroughly, we let them air dry before filling them.

After a few years, we realized we could save ourselves a lot of work by choosing feeders that are easy to clean. We got rid of those long tube feeders.

And the ground underneath

Under the feeder ©Janet Allen
The ground under the feeder

We also try to keep the ground under the feeders clean by raking up any seeds that might get moldy.

We've found it's easier to get seeds without hulls. There's less waste, less mess, and less stuff getting moldy under the feeders.

This is especially important in spring when the snow finally melts, revealing a layer of seed that has been hidden for months.

Squirrels and feeders

Baffles ©Janet Allen
Our feeder baffles (one in the distance)

Squirrels can be a problem with feeders. It's not that we have anything against squirrels, but there are so many of them! I'd consider their population out of balance, and they take more than their fair share of food for a healthy ecosystem.

One thing that works well is to have a baffle on the feeder posts. We use both the stovepipe style and the circular kind. They both seem to be effective. (We also put them on bird house posts to protect the babies from predation.)

Squirrel feeder ©Janet Allen
Outsmarting the feeder

Initially, our weight-sensitive feeder worked pretty well, but the squirrels have outsmarted it. This wasn't a problem in the past, but now our trees are close enough that they can leap from the trees onto the feeder.

Part of me says that if they're willing to work so hard, let them have the seed. But—besides the fact that seed is pretty expensive and squirrels are insatiable—they scare the birds away.

Natural sources of seed

Junco eating seeds from native switchgrass (Panicum virginicum) ©Janet AllenJunco eating seeds from native switchgrass (Panicum virginicum)

Not all seed comes in a plastic bag! We also like to provide natural sources of seed.

We leave our native grasses standing throughout the winter. Not only does it make good bird food, but it's also much more interesting to look at than just snow.

Goldfinch eating hyssop seeds ©Janet AllenGoldfinch eating hyssop seeds

Besides being a wonderful nectar plant in the summer and fall, hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) provides seeds for birds. This goldfinch can hardly wait, even when the seeds are barely ready.

Hyssop seeds
Hyssop seeds

These goldfinches are enjoying the hyssop seeds now that they're finally ripe.

Song sparrow ©Janet Allen
Song sparrow

This song sparrow is enjoying the native grass seeds in our back yard.

Other seeds

Cardinal eating melon seeds ©Janet AllenCardinal eating melon seeds

When we prepare cantaloupe, we save the seeds and put them out for the birds. The cardinals seem to especially like them.

We used to put out winter squash seeds, too, until we discovered how delicious they are when roasted! Now we understand why the squirrels ate them so eagerly.

Seeds for squirrels

Squirrels eating pumpkin seeds ©Janet AllenSelf-serve: Squirrel eating pumpkin seeds

After Halloween, we grab a few intact pumpkins people put out at the curb. The first year, I struggled to cut them in half, but then I discovered squirrels can do the job themselves.

I usually don't encourage squirrels to come to my yard, but adding pumpkins doesn't seem to increase the numbers we normally get, and it keeps them occupied and away from the bird feeders.

And I admit that it's fun to watch them get the pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkins in the composter ©Janet AllenPumpkins in the composter

When the squirrels are done with them, the pumpkin carcasses go into the compost—much more satisfying than seeing them being picked up at the curb by the town's big payloaders and trucks.