Nature Notes — Feeding birds and other wildlife

November is a good time to begin feeding wild birds. Now is when birds are establishing their feeding patterns for winter. With proper cover – trees, shrubs and brush piles – birds will congregate in numbers at feeding stations. On snowy winter days I have recorded as many as 15 different species, and several hundred individual birds, at the Lowry Nature Center feeding station in Carver Park, near Victoria. Home feeding stations can be as effective.

Setting up a feeding station is easy. All one needs is some food and a feeder or two. You can place the seeds for the birds on the ground in sheltered places, and in a variety of feeders. Ideally, the feeders should be in spots where there is shelter, but also where you can see the visitors from a window. Shelter includes woody plants such as trees, especially evergreens, and brush piles; all places to get away from wind, rain, snow, and enemies. The feeders themselves could be simple open trays, hopper or tube feeders. Having several feeders of various designs and at different levels would be best, then no one bird can dominate.

To simplify wildlife feeding, put black sunflower seeds in the feeders and scatter millet and or cracked corn on the ground below the feeders. Yes, the northern cardinals will join the juncos, mourning doves, American tree sparrows and blue jays on the ground to eat cracked corn with gusto. Cardinals, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, American goldfinches, and more will head for the sunflower seeds in the feeders.
Another popular bird food is beef suet. The white, hard suet is available at most meat counters or in suet cake mixes, and can be hung out in mesh holders out of the reach of dogs. Suet is a good energy source for birds. It’s a favorite of the woodpecker clan, but is also eaten by nuthatches, chickadees and others.

Sunflower seeds and cracked corn are highly preferred seeds for attracting birds, and suet is important too. But these foods also attract shrews and rabbits, squirrels and opossums, raccoons and deer. Why not share some food with these mammals and call your feeding station a wildlife feeding station? You can derive as much pleasure from feeding wild mammals as the wild birds. Try it! Immersion heaters, available commercially, keep birdbaths and drinkers ice-free. Birds need water year-round and other wildlife such as deer, squirrels and gray foxes will come for water also.

What’s happening outdoors now?
Short-tailed weasels are in their white winter coats and are often called ermines. They started changing from brown to white in October. Truckloads of Christmas trees are seen on retail lots. Many of these trees are grown on Minnesota tree farms. On the first calm, freezing day or night after a lake or pond reaches 39 degrees F, an ice cover will begin to form. We have already seen thin ice covering ponds several times, but soon melting in the warmer than normal air temperatures.

On Thanksgiving Day a year ago
Thursday, Nov. 24 was sunny with a high temperature of 59 degrees. On this warm day, golf courses were open, runners ran in shorts and T-shirts, and many people put up outdoor holiday decorations. Only nine times in the last 115 years on Thanksgiving Day in the Twin Cities area has the temperature been 50 degrees or above.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes is a regular feature of The Norwood Young America Times.