Spring bird feeding: Helping birds during a critical time
This guest post comes to us from Elaine Cole, owner of Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co., based in Kennesaw, Georgia. Enjoy!
Love Is In the Air – and It’s Very Loud!
I have a serious love/hate relationship with spring. I love the bright green foliage, pretty colored flowers blooming after a long dreary winter, and of course the warmer weather. I look forward to the arrival of my garden catalog and indulge in the idea that this spring I will actually plant the beautiful garden depicted in said catalog. I feel a wonderful sense of hope and new beginnings.
Birds chirping prettily, light winds tickling newly budded trees, the subtle trickle of the creek filling up after a good spring rain – yes, the sounds of spring soothe me. Except for one….
Plunk! Plunk! Plunk! What the heck was that?! I run through the house looking for burglars breaking in only to realize it is a very determined male suitor fighting off his imaginary rival. You have almost certainly experienced this annual ritual: Male birds see their reflection in a window or car mirror and go berserk trying to defend their territory from themselves. In the past I have tried everything to prevent this loud cacophony, without any lasting success.
So now I just exhale and resign myself to a few hours of annoying plunks and grumpily accept that I will have some extra window cleaning and car washing to do before long.
A pair of Northern Cardinals engage in courtship feeding. Photo courtesy of Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co.
Eventually the suitor takes a break and I settle down to read my newly arrived garden catalog without interruption – or so I think. A rapid fire metallic banging soon echoes throughout my house, and once again I’m up searching for this new source of annoyance. Of course! It’s a woodpecker on my chimney cap drumming out a love letter to all available females in the area. “Hello ladies! It’s spring and if you’re looking for a good provider with killer rhythm and an inexhaustible determination to beg for a mate, then here I am!”
Fortunately for my sanity, there is one aspect of springtime mating rituals that I actually look forward to – courtship feeding. I admit I am a closet romantic, so watching a male offer a delicious sunflower seed to his mate as proof of his undying love just makes me sigh (in a good way this time). Realistically I know he is simply demonstrating his ability to provide, but please let me have my fantasies! Not only do I find the gesture endearing, I believe it to be an absolutely genius adaptation of nature. I mean seriously, what girl is going to spurn a man that brings her good food?
So, I say help a fellow out and make sure he has plenty of ammunition in his “wooing” arsenal. Not that my motives are purely altruistic. Let’s face it, the more time he spends gathering food for his honey, the less time he has for messing up my windows and playing drums on my house.
A Blue Jay grabs a peanut. Photo courtesy of Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co.
You might think that all these newly formed bird couples can forage just fine on their own right now. With all the new growth and pleasant temperatures, surely the birds have plenty to eat, right? Surprisingly, just the opposite is true. In our minds there are plenty of berries and insects because we see so much new foliage; but in reality, the availability of natural food for wild birds doesn’t really peak until late summer and early fall. Right now, they are hard-pressed to find steady food sources. Combine that with their incessant drive to mate and defend territories, and wild birds actually need as much help now as in winter.
Personally, I like to mix dried mealworms (just as nutritious as live mealworms but without the “ick” factor) and suet kibbles, then offer it up in a mesh or bowl feeder. Without question it is the most popular feeder in my backyard. It provides an easy meal high in needed protein and fat. Every egg-laying female knows the value of a good mealworm, and high-fat suet kibbles make for a lovely dessert.
Another good option in the spring is fresh fruit. Outside temperatures are not yet high enough to cause rapid spoilage, and it’s a great source of easy nutrition. Oranges, grape halves, and even banana slices are all appreciated this time of year. If fresh is not convenient, then go with a high-quality seed and fruit blend from your local nursery or hardware store. Look for soft fruits that wild birds would normally eat like apples, cranberries, raisins, and currants. Adding protein-packed pecans and nuts to any blend is always a good idea regardless of the time of year.
Of course, all that baby-bird-making preparation works up a mighty thirst, so don’t forget a clean water source. Nothing goes better with courtship feeding than a nice cold libation. Hopefully by helping wild birds survive their springtime needs, you’ll eventually get a chance to enjoy it yourself – without ear plugs! — Elaine Cole
Elaine Cole is the owner of Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co., based in Kennesaw, Georgia. She also wrote for us about feeding birds in winter.