For The Answer
Submitted by Calvin Finch,
Ph.D., Director of Conservation, SAWS, and Horticulturist
Sometime this month the American goldfinches will return to the San Antonio area. They will not be in breeding plumage, so you may not recognize them as wild canaries. Although they are not bright yellow, they are still acrobatic and will entertain you at a tube-type thistle feeder. Your children will be especially entertained if you use one of the sock-type feeders. The goldfinches hang upside down pulling the thistle seed through the fabric. While you are watching the American goldfinches, a flock of gold and back lesser goldfinches may show up. They are smaller than the American goldfinches but retain their colorful plumage all year.
Cardinals, chicadees, jays, and titmice love sunflower seed. To feed them while limiting the consumption of white wing doves and squirrels, use a steel feeder with a weight-sensitive perch. If you feel bad about the doves, every morning throw out some mixed birdseed on the ground or an open platform close to the ground.
In addition to white wings you may attract Inca and mourning doves, plus Lincoln sparrows, towhees, and other ground feeding birds. The reason it is best to spread the seed in the morning is to minimize the amount available to night feeding rodents.
Every store that sells birdseed also has a large selection of suet and dough blocks. Flavors include orange, berry, nut, and pepper. The pepper flavored is best for yards where squirrels are pests. The hungry mammals do not like the taste of pepper but the birds seem to ignore the taste.
Suet attracts woodpeckers, cardinals, chicadees, jays, wrens, and even an occasional warbleranything that eats insects. Feed the suet bocks in wire cages manufactured for the job. The nut cakes also attract a large number of birds. Cakes made with safflower seed last longer than nut cakes because only cardinals and a few other desirable species are fond of the seed. Use them where English sparrows and squirrels are plentiful.
Do you occasionally let fruit go past its prime? Instead of tossing it in the garbage cut oranges, grapefruit, or apples in half and stick them on a nail. Woodpeckers, finches, cardinals, and even an occasional oriole will eat the fruit.
Winter in San Antonio can be pretty dry. A birdbath will attract large numbers of birds all winter. It is especially interesting when the large flocks of cedar wax wings move through the neighborhood eating the pyracantha, ligustrum, and holly berries. They move in synchronized formations.
Place your birdbath about 6 feet from a thick shrub or small tree so the birds can flee to cover if a hawk approaches. Any closer than that, however, and the bathing or drinking birds are easy targets for cats hiding in the shrub. The 6-foot rule is also good for feeders as well. To enjoy the birds to their fullest, however, keep feeders and bird baths in easy view of your easy chair, kitchen window, or patio table.