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Walk Softly – Everybody's Hungry – Time to feed them!

By Geoffrey Carpentier

Over the last few days you might have noticed, a lot of birds (and some bugs and bats) are on the move. Hawks, ducks, geese, loons and many small passerines (e.g. kinglets, sparrows and finches) are showing up in, or flying overour yards, daily!

Winter is coming whether we like it or not and those hardy northern birds have decided it is time to migrate. North winds and cool nights have caused an influx of tens of thousands of birds into our area. This week the sparrows moved in, as large numbers are now here, with White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows and Juncos predominating. This has also been a great year for crossbills as well, with many Red Crossbills showing up – some of them traveling here from as far as the Rockies. Pine Siskins are expected to shortly join our resident Goldfinches, to add some spice to our yards. Blackbird flocks are sometimes huge here in the fall - I’ve recently seen hundreds of Red-wings in a single flock. It is an exciting time of year.

So all this means, if you haven’t already, you should get your feeders out and filled. But before you do, here are a few tips which will keep your birds safe:

  1. Clean your feeders with a light bleach and water, then once they are totally dry and have no residual chlorine odour, fill them and put them up in your yard.

  2. How many feeders should you put out? It doesn’t matter – it’s up to you - but be aware, one type of feeder doesn’t serve all birds because different birds have different feeding preferences and like different foods.

  3. Use any seed mix you like. I favour different mixes which include as little millet as possible and as much sunflower as I can afford. I find the smaller black sunflower is favoured by more birds but they certainly will eat the larger sized sunflower seed as well. I add mixed seed to them for an all-round blend which most birds like. On the ground I spread rolled corn, as the sparrows, doves and cardinals thrive on it and it is very inexpensive. Finches like Niger seeds in tubular feeders but first lightly moisten the seed, by soaking it in small batches for 30 or so minutes then once air dried put it in your feeder. Recently available varieties seem to be too dry for the birds, so these extra steps help make it palatable. And don’t forget the woodpeckers – put out suet blocks to serve their palate.

  4. Choose a spot which gives you a clear line of sight to your feeder(s), so you can enjoy watching the birds.

  5. Place your feeders so they are not under dense cover, as predators can and will sneak up on them and the outcome is unpleasant. Placing them in the open, about 1-2 meters from cover, allows the birds to flee to safety but is just far enough squirrels will have trouble leaping onto them from adjacent branches. Set them no less than 1.3 meters off the ground - again so squirrels can’t jump up on them.

  6. Don’t place them too close to the house (i.e. between 1-2 meters), as the birds may fly into your windows and perish. It’s okay to have window ledge or window mounted feeders, as the birds are right beside the window and if they fly off suddenly they can’t gain enough momentum to hurt themselves should they hit the window.

  7. If you have large areas of glass, hang something on the inside (e.g. light curtains or blinds) to prevent bird strikes. You can also consider installing patterns on your windows to protect birds (visit for some great options).

  8. If you have a cat, please keep it indoors, and No - cats do not NEED to be outside - they do just fine if kept indoors. This is an important consideration, since billions (yes you read this correctly) of birds, mammals and reptiles and amphibians are killed annually by family and feral cats in North America.

Okay, you’re ready. The feeders are up and the birds are here - so let’s sit back and enjoy the show!

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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