Of the three essentials for attracting birds -- food, water, and shelter -- food is by far the most important. Without food, birds will flock to other areas. The finest houses and shelters will not keep birds in your backyard if you do not provide enough of the right kind of food.
Birds, in fact, require huge quantities of food, compared with their size.
If you feed the birds in the summer, they will naturally flock to your yard. Yet summer feeding is really unnecessary. During this time of year they instinctively look for natural food in the form of weed seeds, insects, and wild berries.
Winter feeding is far mor important. With the arrival of cold weather and snow, the natural food becomes scarce.
A word of warning: Do not start to feed the birds and then give it up. Once feeding has begun it must be kept up. If not, hundreds of birds that you brough to your area may succumb because they became dependent upon your supply of food.
If you begin the feeding in early fall, local birds will be the the first to come to your feeders. Soon they will attract the migrating birds as well. The nerwcomers will become acquainted wit the surroundings and will soon adapt themselves to the conditions they find.
First of all, birds must have some grit, such as fine sand or gravel, in the wintertime because it aids in the digestion of the food they eat. A teaspon of grit to a quart of feed is quite sufficient.
Insect-eating birds consume a large amount of animal matter, mostly insects and their larvae.
In the winter the best substitute is ordinary beef suet, which helps the birds maintain a high body temperature in the cold months. When you buy suet from a food store, ask that it be not stringy. It is far more difficult for birds to eat and will not melt down smoothly when you mix it with other bird feed.
There is some disagreement about peanut butter as food for birds.It can be very harmful to some birds, while others seem to enjoy it and can handle it safely. As a rule of thumb, peanut butter is not recommended.
Since all birds eat seeds, this food will attract a large number of them. Even the predominantly insect-eating birds will turn to seeds in the wintertime. The most readily obtainable seeds are sunflower, hempseed, millet, buckwheat, cracked corn, and wheat. You can also add some ground dog biscuits, raisins, and even rabbit food.
An in-depth, four-part seed survey was conducted by Richard M. Viggars of the Pennyfeather Corporation of Greenville, Del., that showed which seeds were most often eaten as well as the species that ate them. His conclusions were:
* The wheat used in commercial mixtures was a complete waste.
* Milo was almost as useless as wheat.
* Red millet was a little better.
* Sunflower and white millet were better suited to a bird's taste.
* Crushed oats were good for songbirds, but only when mixed with nuts.
* Yellow corn proved to be highly acceptable.
* Canary seed, along with niger thistle, attracted species of the finch family.
* Broken white rice, hemp, and buckwheat were not so acceptable.
* Hulled whole oats were disappointing. White or proso millet was generally a good food for all types of birds.
Just about any kind of nut or nutmeats are devoured by some species of birds. While popcorn, scratch feed, whole corn, and cornmeal are also good, these foods will attract the less desirable species.
Because of the increasing cost of niger seed, feed companies have been bagging what they call "finch mix." It contains very little niger seed but a great deal of dust from corn shells and the like. The birds know the difference.
The best combination of food for birds of all species is a fat-seed mixture that you can make in your kitchen.
To prepare it, collect discarded kitchen fat in a can. When you have a sufficient amount, stir in cornmeal, flour, and any birdseed you have on hand. Since it will be used in the winter, the cold temperatures will keep it firm.
It is also good idea to add a little salt, since the birds will relish it.