February is National Bird-Feeding Month
Bird-feeding is second-most popular hobby in the U.S.
More than 55 million Americans feed birds around their homes, making bird-feeding the second-most popular hobby in the United States behind gardening. In an effort to encourage this backyard bird-feeding fun, the
National Bird-Feeding Society celebrates National Bird-Feeding Month each February.
In the Chattanooga area, bird-feeders can expect to draw cardinals, chickadees, tufted titmice, mourning doves, downy and hairy woodpeckers, blue jays, wrens, mockingbirds, robins, towhees, song sparrows, house finches and goldfinches.
“The No. 1 reason to set up bird-feeders is for the enjoyment of observing these beautiful birds,” said Harold Sharp, a lifelong bird watcher and member of the Tennessee Ornithological Society in Chattanooga. “They really don't need to be fed because they will find food, but you can make it easier for them and enjoy watching them as well.”
The first step in setting up a bird-feeding station is picking out a bird-feeder. Tube feeders are a good choice because they are easy to clean, according to Kyle Waggener, director of education at the Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center.
“It is really important to clean bird-feeders every week or two, so they don’t spread diseases to the birds, so tube feeders are a great option because they are easy to clean,” Waggener said. “Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned more often—every time you refill the feeder—because the sugar water can attract harmful bacteria and mold.”
When it comes to choosing seeds, the best all-around attractant is black oil sunflower seed. This seed has a high meat-to-shell ratio, it is high in fat and its small size and thin shell make it easy for small birds to handle and crack.
Suet, which can be purchased as a processed cake that includes seeds, berries and other ingredients, is a good choice for attracting insect-eating birds. Other bird-feeding options include fruits, mealworms and nectar.
It doesn’t take long for birds to find a well-placed bird-feeder. Ideally, feeders should be set 10 to 15 feet away from trees and low bushes in order to provide protection from predators, especially house cats.
In order to prevent birds from flying into windows, Waggener recommends placing a feeder either really close to the window (one to three feet) or far away from the window (25 feet or more). Streams and wind chimes placed in front of windows can also help prevent deadly crashes.
Using native plants in your backyard landscape will offer the most resources to birds, providing food, cover and nesting sites that birds are adapted to utilizing.
“When you use native plants, you’re providing the birds with a food source and habitat, not a handout,” Waggener said.
Each spring and fall, the Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center hosts a native plant sale—a great way to learn about and purchase wildlife-friendly native plants. This year’s Marie Humphreys Spring Wildflower Festival and Native Plant Sale will take place March 30-31 and April 1.
Like all animals, birds need water to survive. A dependable supply of fresh, clean water will attract a variety of birds—even birds that do not eat seeds or do not visit feeders.
When choosing a birdbath, chose one with a basin that can be cleaned easily. Water drips and sprays in the birdbath are particularly popular with birds. Be sure to place the birdbath in the shade, near trees or shrubs if possible.
No backyard bird-feeding station is complete without a bird guide so that bird-watchers can learn about the birds they are enjoying. The "Peterson Field Guides" are recommended by many bird-watchers. Peterson’s “Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America” is a good beginning guide for young bird-watchers.
By Jenni Frankenberg Veal