Nature talk: Don’t stop feeding the birds now

by Lyle Bradley

Winter bird feeding is a popular, but keep it going longer for seasonal reasons. We just went through a storm that caught many early migrants in a survival status.

We all saw birds like tree sparrows, gold finches or redpolls scratching through three to five inches of snow.

Gold finches and purple finches, male and female, on the Bradley feeder in April. Photo submitted by Lyle Bradley
Gold finches and purple finches, male and female, on the Bradley feeder in April. Photo submitted by Lyle Bradley

Larger birds like turkeys and pheasants can do it but not smaller ones.

Early storms can catch nesting birds and be fatal to adults and the young.

I recall a storm in Iowa in the late 1940s that struck on May 25.

After the storm of April 11, I made a count on our overcrowded window feeder as follows: eight redpolls, two juncos, seven gold finches, five purple finches, one tree sparrow and two chickadees.

The woodpeckers were active in trees and the flock of robins ignored that feeder.

All day since the ice went out on April 3 the pond has been holding an above average share of waterfowl.

We have a pair of trumpeter swans, Canada geese and many wood ducks and hooded merganser.

Other waterfowl like the sandhill cranes are taking advantage of open water habitat.

The brush piles, about 25, erected in the pond have been attractive to the water birds.

Birds, like people, “save-up” on trips. Tree swallows and other insect eaters that arrive before the insects can starve by the flock.

Bluebirds and robins, normally tough birds, will also starve if they do not get some nourishing berries, suet (substitute for insects) or other handouts to keep them going.

Spring feeding is especially important for the female birds. They are already producing eggs and some, like wood ducks and hooded mergansers, are laying eggs.

This time of year their food is at a minimum and needs supplemental help.

For birds like waterfowl, pheasants, cranes, turkeys and other larger birds, whole corn is great.

Even several woodpeckers, like the red-bellied, love whole corn.

We go through several bushels of corn each spring and fall – about the cost of a few movies but more entertaining for a longer time.

Winter/spring feeding is important to keep some species flourishing.

The cardinal is a prime example. In my youth cardinals were rare in Iowa and almost unknown in Minnesota.

Today with winter feeding these birds are found in southern Canada.

To be successful in attracting birds to your backyard, keep feeding them; keep developing favorable habitat; control some predators like feral cats and raccoons; and have fun in the process.

All ages seem to enjoy birds and some species can be trained to eat out of your hand – great to induce excitement in children of all ages.

Stop feeding when the birds no longer come to your feeder. There is an abundance of natural food later.

Editor’s note: Lyle Bradley is a member of the Coon Rapids Senior Center Creative Writers’ Group.

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