Watching Out For The Birdies


December 20, 1992|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

My friends are flying in for the holidays, and I'm planning a yummy yuletide feast that should please the whole flock.

Here is the bill of fare:


3' Pine cones smeared in peanut butter


6* Bacon fat with boiled rice and raisins


# Stale cookie crumbs



Right now you're thinking: This meal is for the birds. You bet. It's a Christmas treat they'll never forget.

It's the least I can do for my feathered friends.

The birds and I have a pact. I feed them in winter so they'll hang around in spring and summer eating garden insects like grubs, slugs and grasshoppers.

Everyone gains from this arrangement. The birds eat well year-round, and my crops need no chemical sprays.

"Birds are nature's pesticide," writes Bill Adler Jr. in his book "Impeccable Birdfeeding."

Birds are voracious eaters. A single wren will consume 500 bugs in one afternoon; a blue jay, 17 tent caterpillars in a minute.

I admire these birds. I couldn't even find 17 caterpillars in a minute, much less swallow them. So I do my best to get the birds through winter, in hopes they'll patrol the garden come spring.

The Christmas meal ought to clinch the deal.

It's also my way of squaring things for what happened last year, when the dog caught and killed three young birds that fluttered into her path, and I separated a mother from her nest.

I can't speak for the dog; however, my act was a tragic mistake. Last spring, before a storm, I hurriedly closed the door of the garden shed. Three days later, I reopened it and discovered a bird's nest with a single egg. It was cold and white. There were no signs of the mother, who must have been locked out during the storm. One can only imagine her anguish in those futile attempts to return to the nest.

That poor bird probably left town. But if she's still around, I hope she visits the feeder Christmas Day. I have a raisin especially for her.

Mockingbirds like raisins and fresh fruit. So I leave several damaged apples on our fruit trees for them and the blue jays to peck at all winter.

Birds aren't finicky eaters in December, but each has its favorite food. Cardinals love safflower seeds; nuthatches like peanuts. Sparrows, which have terrible table manners, like millet; woodpeckers favor suet.

It's a treat to watch them eat, from the "carryout" birds like the blue jay, who crams his mouth full of seed and then flies off to eat it, to "sit-down" diners like the purple finch, who stays at the table until his tummy is full.

Some birds, like the black-capped chickadee, will eat upside down. Others, like mourning doves, eat only on the ground.

Uh-oh, here come the starlings, those crowlike creatures who descend on a feeder and squeeze out the smaller birds. I used to rap on the window to try to scare them off, until I found that (1) it didn't work and (2) starlings are among the gardener's best friends. Half of their summer diet consists of cutworms, beetles and other insects. They also eat crab-grass seeds.

It's a rare bird who passes up sunflower seeds, especially the smaller black oil ones. But rake up the discarded hulls, lest they kill grass and plants.

Keep an ample supply of seed on hand, but know that in a pinch, birds will eat anything from dried peas to dog food.

But I don't buy those bags of mixed seed sold in supermarkets. They are full of milo, a feed most birds ignore. My birds also refused Trix, a stale box of which I dumped in the feeder last year. Then again, perhaps it wasn't the Trix the birds snubbed but our cat, Timmy, who squeezed into the feeder and tried to hide amidst the brightly colored cereal.

Of course, the birds didn't fall for it. After awhile Timmy slunk off, with red and purple balls stuck to his fur. He looked like a clown. Probably felt like one, too.

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