For The Answer
Bring Birds to your Yard with Feeding and Water
Bird feeding is fun because it brings in the birds for easy viewing. It is especially fun in San Antonio because we have such a wide variety of birds that can be attracted to our yards with feeding stations and water.
I am not an advocate of feeding seed mixtures. It results in too much seed waste and gives the aggressive birds such as white wing doves and English sparrows an advantage over cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees and other birds that we especially want to observe. If you select the seed and the feeding method to fit your target birds, the experience is generally less frustrating and expensive.
American goldfinches are wintering in San Antonio after a breeding season up north. You may not recognize their plumage because it is very drab compared to what they looked like when they migrated north last spring. The showy gold and black feathers are now drab yellow green but the antics are still recognizable. The goldfinches become quite tame and move in large groups to take advantage of sunflower or thistle feed. Offer the thistle in tube feeders with small perches and seed holes, and the goldfinches will dominate the feeder. They will even hang upside down if that is how the feeder is constructed.
Thistle seed provided in a tube feeder especially designed for goldfinches will also attract our resident lesser goldfinches and house finches. The lesser goldfinches are smaller than the American goldfinches but never lose their gold and black plumage. The house finches are brownish with a speckled chest and a rose red blush. The males get especially red as spring approaches. English sparrows will learn how to eat from the feeders but it is not their favorite seed.
Cardinals love sunflower seeds but they also like safflower seed. Tufted titmice, chickadees and house finches also like the white seed. Feed it in a tubular feeder and these desirable species will be the almost exclusive users of the feeder.
If you want to feed sunflower seed without being overrun by white wing doves, English sparrows and grackles, provide the seed in a feeder with a weight sensitive perch. Set the perch sensitivity to accept cardinals and the lightweight birds but to swing closed when the heavier birds alight. I like the jays, so I allow them to land without closing the feeder but if they are too dominant they can be excluded as well. The weight sensitive perches out smart the squirrels too if you hang it far enough from the overhanging branches to prevent them from hanging down to snatch the seed. Make the feeder the steel versions offered by local bird supply, hardware, feed and garden stores and the squirrels will not be able to chew through to the seed.
The insect eating birds such as wrens and myrtle warblers will rarely visit a seed feeder but they sometimes eat suet. Suet is beef fat that is packaged for easy bird feeding and often flavored with seeds and fruit. The flavor I like best is pepper flavored. The birds eat it eagerly and the squirrels pass it up. Golden fronted woodpeckers, jays and starlings also like suet.
None of the feed strategies described are great for the ground-feeding birds. Inca doves, Lincoln sparrows, towhees, song sparrows and white crowned sparrows will visit the vicinity of the feeders to pick up the spilled seed from the hanging feeders. To attract more ground-feeders, put some seed on a low platform such as a sidewalk block. It also works to throw some on a bare spot on the ground. This is one place where I use a mixed seed. It is less expensive than sunflower seed and the ground-feeders like some millet and even cracked corn. To reduce a problem with rodents put this seed out in the morning and only provide enough so that it all is eaten by evening.
Water is very effective in attracting birds. Even during the wintertime San Antonio has dry spells when birds will seek a water source. If it is one that is placed so you can observe the birds that use it, they do not care. A shallow birdbath works. Rinse and refill it every day or two for the best results. Place the water source close to an escape route such as small trees and shrubs but not so close that cats can hide in the foliage to pick off wet birds. An open spot 8-10 feet from cover is best.
The cedar waxwings and doves seem to prefer birdbaths on stands but water features with moving water are very attractive to most species. Design the feature to have shallows for bathing. Our small pond with a waterfall attracts numbers of migrating orioles, indigo buntings, painted buntings, Wilson’s warblers and many other species in the spring migration. In the summertime, the goldfinches, orioles and resident warblers often use the feature.
For more information about bird feeding and attracting birds to the landscape a good book is Attracting Birds to Southern Gardens (Pope, Odenwald and Fryling). The internet is also loaded with information. KLUP radio has a new bird show on Saturdays at 2pm. The host, Bill Svelan, has guests that are local bird experts and quite often they discuss bird feeding.