Archive for the ‘Feeding Wild Birds’ Category

Spotted Towhee in the snow. Stock photo.

Spotted Towhee

Well, here we are. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the start of Hannukah. It’s so easy to get “wrapped up” in our holiday preparations that we forget to include the birds in the festivities.

If you’re looking for a way to spread some cheer to our feathered friends, I’ve assembled a short list (very short, so we can all get right back to our holiday plans) to help us do just that.

1. Make a birdseed and suet wreath for the birds. Suet is a very helpful dietary component for birds during the cold winter months, and this oldie-but-goodie article will show you how to make a wreath they’ll really enjoy. Add dried mealworms for extra nutrition. Don’t forget the bow!

2. Give an end-of-the-year gift to your favorite nature charity. The larger nature foundations do wonderful work and have a reach that is far and wide, but did you know local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers need your gifts the most? If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you can find one close to you here.

3. After Christmas, give your tree, wreaths, and garlands to the birds. Recycle your tree and pine boughs, etc., by turning them into protection against harsh weather and predators. Learn more in this article from Cornell.

Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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On suet-making days, when I’ve got everything melting together in a pan on top of the stove, each member of my family, one-by-one, will saunter nonchalantly into the kitchen. Soon comes the sly, “Whatcha makin’? Smells like peanut butter fudge.”

Disappointment ensues when they find out that not only is it not fudge, but it isn’t for them at all. It’s peanut butter suet, and it’s for the backyard birds who’ve become spoiled enough to depend on it during cooler weather. Or even demand it, like the resident Northern Flickers who absolutely relish it.

Some time back, I decided to facilitate a taste test between my suet and some that was store-bought. (Both were peanut butter flavored.) Knowing my suet was fresh, fragrant, and even a little softer and easier to eat, I had a feeling I already knew which suet would win (ahem…mine), but gave it a go anyway. Here are a few photos to illustrate how the test went.

Order here: Pacific Northwest Birds Peanut Butter Suet

I’d added raisins to this particular batch of suet, but my mistake was mixing them in whole and not chopped. The birds seemed to pick around them and were more interested in the seeds, peanuts, and the suet dough itself. But, whole raisins or not, you can see which suet the birds preferred. The store-bought suet is on the left and mine is on the right. It’s been a while since I took these, but if I remember right, all of the photos were taken over a two week period, though the time frame may have been shorter.

#1 -- Hard to tell, but both suet baskets contain approximately the same amount of suet (by weight). The baskets are the same size.

#2 -- They've been chipping away at my suet and all but ignoring the store-bought.

#3 -- Whoa...almost gone!

#4 -- BAM! Loser concedes. We have a winner!

Somewhere in the middle of that, I forgot to take another photo, but you get the idea. The birds preferred the suet on the right.

Making your own suet is a fun and rewarding project. Check out this recipe to try it yourself. Or, if you’d rather not bother, you can purchase it directly from Pacific Northwest Birds. All of my suet is made in small batches to ensure quality and then frozen until shipment. The recipe I use for this suet is slightly different than the one at the link, as I changed it up just a bit to ensure stability and consistency. Each block of suet weighs about a pound or more…much larger than those little suet cakes you’ll find at the store. The suet on the right in the photos above is not representative of the much-larger suet blocks available for purchase.

Whether you buy it or make your own, you’ll most likely attract some or all of these birds: Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Spotted Towhees, Steller’s Jays, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pileated Woodpeckers, Bushtits, and Northern Flickers. I have a feeling I’m forgetting one or two. Oh, that’s right — and European Starlings, which I don’t appreciate due to their ability to hog and demolish the suet block within just a few days. (I’ve been known to take the suet down until the starlings have forgotten about it.)


Read more about our peanut butter suet here.


Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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American Goldfinches. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

American Goldfinches have been hogging the feeders lately, perhaps to fuel up for their journey to...elsewhere (certainly not here). 9-1-2014. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

When I stepped outside to fill the feeders the other morning (the first of September, to be exact), I was pleasantly surprised to feel a slight chill in the air. I love summer, but all the heat and humidity was making me cranky.

Besides the lower temps, there are other things I look forward to with the arrival of fall: the changing of the leaves, drinking hot coffee at Starbucks just to warm myself up, and the visits of migrating birds passing through on the way to their winter homes.

It’s that very idea of birds heading south that causes some people to believe that feeding the birds is just a seasonal thing. The truth is that while many birds do fly off to spend the winter in warmer climates, quite a few remain. Here are some of the birds you’ll see year-round in the Pacific Northwest (though not everyone here in the PNW will see the same birds):

Spotted Towhee
Steller’s Jay
Dark-eyed Junco
Pine Siskin
Black-capped Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
House Finch
Purple Finch

American Goldfinches also hang out year round, according to every range map I’ve seen. That may be true, but where I live (just south of Seattle), I only see them from spring through early fall. What about you? Do you see them during the winter months? Since they’re more drab in the winter, they may in large part just go unnoticed, but I have a feeling that many of them also vacation in the southern U.S. before returning in the spring. I know for a fact that they are nowhere near my feeders in the winter months…and you can bet I notice and identify every bird I see in my backyard.

Considering that so many of our feathered friends do stick around, what should we be doing this fall to help care for them? I’ve come up with a few ideas.

1. For starters, now is a great time to clean your feeders. Let the birds empty them, then bring them in to give them a good scrub in your sink. (Be sure to dry them completely before refilling with seed.) I prefer feeders that come apart easily. I also have a long tube seed feeder, but since it’s hard to clean, it gets replaced about once a year. Choose hummingbird feeders that are easy to clean, too, since these can grow mildew and bacteria quickly.

2. Continue to feed the hummingbirds. Rufous Hummingbirds and Black-chinned Hummingbirds arrive in spring and leave in late summer, but our Anna’s hummers are year-round residents who depend on nectar for sustenance, especially when the bug population drops.

Read it: Backyard Birding: Using Natural Gardening to Attract Birds by Julie Zickefoose

3. Depending on where you hang your feeders, this is also a good time to rake or sweep away any old seed and seed husks. Not only is it unsightly, but old seed left on the ground can harbor bacteria and also attract slugs and rodents.

4. Hang up bird houses and/or roosting boxes to provide shelter for birds during cold and harsh weather. Also, hold off on any drastic pruning of shrubbery and trees, for the same reason. This also gives birds a place to hide from predators.

5. Most importantly, keep feeding the birds! Once you’ve begun to feed your backyard birds, it really is a commitment. They quickly learn to depend on you for sustenance. Look for sales and stock up on seed if you live in an area where you’re likely to get snowed in.

What do you do to care for backyard birds during the fall and winter months? Leave a comment below or chime in on our Facebook page or on Twitter!


Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Male Evening Grosbeak. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Male Evening Grosbeak. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Along with the sun and milder temperatures here in the Pacific Northwest, migrating birds have been making their appearance, too. Whether they’re in the area to stay or just stopping for a rest and a few morsels of food before taking off again, their arrival is a fantastic opportunity for us to do some backyard birding. (By the way, spring is a great time to start a “life list” of birds you’ve seen, if you haven’t done so yet.)

While watching these birds is enjoyable for us, spring can be a dangerous time for them. The following tips will help to ensure a safer experience for your feathered visitors.

1. Keep cats indoors. Domestic cats allowed to roam their yards and neighborhoods can do real damage to the bird population. (The outside world isn’t the safest place for cats, either, which is another good reason to keep them inside.) It’s normal, I think, to assume it’s not a big deal for cats to catch a bird or two. But when we realize just how many cats are actually out there catching “a bird or two,” and the huge negative impact this has on bird numbers, we see how much of a big deal it really is. This article by the Washington Post says outdoor cats (they’re including feral cats in these numbers, too) kill between 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds each year. Just one domestic cat alone can kill up to 34 birds a year (that number is quite a bit higher for feral cats). So, if at all possible, make a difference for the birds in your yard and keep kitty inside where she can spend time chattering at the birds instead of pouncing on them.

2. Learn Good Birdhouse Etiquette. Wait…there’s etiquette for birdhouses? Well, not really, as the word etiquette usually implies a code of conduct regarding proper and polite ways to behave in a social setting, but it sounded better than rules. But rules they are, I guess, and following them might make for a better nesting experience this spring for all concerned.

First of all, don’t place a birdhouse too low. A too-low birdhouse makes it easy for predators like cats and raccoons to reach in and remove eggs and nestlings — and possibly the parents — from the nest. Poles with baffles, like this one and this one from Duncraft, make it difficult for predators to reach the birdhouse.

Don’t hang it in a full-sun location. I made this mistake when I started caring for backyard birds years ago. The back of our house – a spot that got full sun – seemed like a perfect location for a nesting box I’d just purchased, and for a while it was. It just didn’t occur to me that it would overheat on the inside. (That’s called naïveté on steroids.) A family of sparrows raised one brood that spring, and then had a second brood that summer. The second brood didn’t fare as well: It ended up being too hot inside the birdhouse and the nestlings didn’t survive. Needless to say… I felt horrible about it, learned a huge lesson, and didn’t make that mistake again.

Become an expert with the Audubon Birdhouse Book.

Only use birdhouses or nesting boxes that have a side or bottom panel that opens, and clean them out after nesting season is over. Many birds will simply build a new nest on top of any old ones left in the birdhouse. Over time, this raises the level of the nest dangerously, leaving the nestlings susceptible to predators. Also, if the young are too close to the entrance hole, they could fall out before they’re old enough to survive on their own. Birdhouses should also be cleaned out to remove parasites and any wasp nests that may have been started. The best time to do this is in the fall, when it’s obvious to you that the birdhouse is no longer being used. (Do put the birdhouse or nesting box back up after you’ve cleaned it — overwintering birds will use it for shelter during harsh weather.) For more tips about housing birds, check out this article by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Nesting and Roosting Boxes for Birds.

3. Do not use rat poison. Rat poison, commonly used by homeowners as an easy way to get rid of rodents, is made with anticoagulants (blood thinners) that cause internal hemorrhaging and subsequent death. These dying rats or mice become weak, easy prey for raptors like hawks, eagles, and owls, who then become secondary victims of the poison and die a slow, painful death.

I know it’s hard to admit…sometimes even to yourself…that you might have a rodent problem, so I’ll go first: Last summer, we had an experience with a family of rats that were getting into the crawl space under our house. They’d been attracted originally by the birdseed I’d been putting out, but since I wasn’t about to stop feeding the birds to get rid of the rats, we had to think of a different solution. After locating the place they were entering our home through, my husband placed one trap near that spot and another trap near what may have been their underground nest, using peanut butter as bait. He’d get a couple rats, reset the traps, and repeat. We ended up getting rid of the mama and several of her quickly-growing children that way. I was concerned that the birds would be attracted to the peanut butter and be harmed by the traps, too, but that didn’t happen. Whew.

If you do have a rat problem, you’ll enjoy this article by Animal Planet on 10 Rat Myths. Or, if you’re like me and you hate rats, you won’t enjoy it…but may find it interesting.

4. Keep birdfeeders clean and full. I don’t need to tell you, especially if you live west of the Cascades, that it’s been very wet and rainy lately. Birdfeeders can be magnets for bacteria, and quickly become their very own petri dishes. Buy an easy-to-clean feeder (one that can be completely taken apart) and clean it at least weekly during wet weather. If you see sick birds, take the feeders down entirely for at least a week or two to keep the disease from spreading to other birds.

Also, don’t place your feeders too close to dense shrubbery where predators can easily hide. Hanging them from a shepherd’s staff, like the one shown below, at least five to six feet away from the nearest shrubs will give your songbirds a better chance of escaping a hungry raptor or cat. (Pictures can be deceiving, by the way: The grape arbor in the photo, below, is really about 20 feet away from the feeding station.)

Evening Grosbeaks. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Evening Grosbeaks. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Nectar feeders for hummingbirds should also be cleaned at least weekly, and the nectar changed every few days, especially in warm weather when it can quickly turn rancid. Some people change the nectar every day, and it’s really just a matter of personal preference. Just keep an eye on it – if the nectar starts to look cloudy, it needs to be changed and the feeder cleaned.

5. Keep Window Strikes to a Minimum. We’ve all heard that dreaded thunk when a bird flies directly into one of our window panes. At my house, it’s usually juncos, because we have so many, but one year it was a Yellow Warbler that hit our living room’s bay window (he lived, as far as we know). What’s particularly deceiving about window strikes is that the birds, even if knocked silly for a while, will eventually fly away…provided they weren’t killed instantly when they hit. It’s been discovered that birds who hit windows suffer concussions and possible bleeding inside their skulls from the window collisions, which can lead to their deaths later.

One way to keep window strikes to a minimum is to place decals on the windows most often hit by birds (for me, it’s my dining room and living room windows). The decals are more visible from the outside than from the inside, so your view won’t be impeded as you watch the birds while drinking your morning coffee.

That’s it for now. Do you have any tips for making your backyard safer for birds? Leave a comment below, on our Facebook page or on Twitter.

Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

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It’s cold, it’s rainy, and the natives are restless. Did I just describe your current situation, too? Whether the “natives” are kids home from school, house guests from out of town, or even yourself, I’ve got a project to keep even the antsiest among us entertained. It’s a birdseed suet wreath that anyone can make, and a fun way to share the Christmas spirit with your feathered friends.

For this project, I decided to team up with my seven-year-old, who had a great time helping me.

Let me start by saying that I did not come up with this recipe myself but found it on Martha Stewart’s website in the form of a video. (You’ll find the link to it at the bottom of this post.)

We made our wreath a little differently than Martha did. While she used rendered lard and birdseed, I used shortening (melted in the microwave) and added crunchy peanut butter, oats, cornmeal, and an extra helping of black oil sunflower seeds. Also, I did not have cranberries, so I used raisins, instead (not pictured).

Here’s my young birder helping to mix everything together.

(Need birdseed? Check out Wagner’s Songbird Supreme Blend.)

When you’ve got it all blended, begin filling your Bundt pan, pressing it down as you go. (But first place your cranberries in the bottom of the pan, if using them. You know how birds like their food to be aesthetically pleasing.) I used a springform pan with a Bundt insert, which made getting this thing out very easy.

When you’re done, it will look like this. The next time I make it, I’ll double the recipe so it fills the pan. Mine actually turned out somewhat thin.

I popped the pan into the fridge for a couple of days to make sure the wreath was good and set. I was very pleased with the result. It looks great, don’t you think?

After a quick selfie, I left it for the birds…

…who were on it literally within just a few minutes of my going back into the house. (Be sure to hang it using a wide ribbon for better stability.)

This wreath drew more than just chickadees. Spotted Towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, finches, and nuthatches all gobbled it up. Unfortunately, they ate from the top of it first, and within days it had broken and was lying on the ground in pieces. No worries, however — I simply put the pieces where they could get to them more easily, which for me was on an old wooden bridge near our feeders, but a tray or pie pan set on the ground would work just as well.

Here’s a link to Martha Stewart’s video: Birdseed wreath on

If you make this wreath, please post a picture on our Facebook page!

Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

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