A Nichols Worth Of Nature

Donnie Nichols
County Reporter
Here’s one of my favorite December topics:
You can easily attract a wide variety of birds and provide hours of entertainment in easy viewing range by putting up a bird feeder. My good friend and buddy, Larry Walthall, has a feeder just outside his window at Lincoln Community Care Center. Backyard bird feeders are a great place for children (and adults) to learn about and identify different species of birds. Kim and I always keep a yearly list of all birds that we identify at our feeders.
Backyard bird feeding is the second most popular hobby in the United States, surpassed only by gardening. Over 55 million people in the United States feed wild birds, spending $3 billion on feed and over $800 million on feeders, birdbaths and other feeding accessories.
The history of bird feeding in America dates back to 1845 when Henry David Thoreau fed wild birds at Walden Pond. For the next 100 years or so, wild bird feeding gradually increased but generally only the affluent could afford to do so. The post-WWII decade of the 1950s became a prosperous one. Incomes increased, suburbs proliferated across the United States and backyard bird feeding increased.
After the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, an expose of the impact of DDT on birds, bird feeding took on added importance as a way to help protect birds. In the 1960s, scientists first started looking at the impact of backyard bird feeding.
There was increased survivorship, improved nutritional status and range expansions of species. Today about 1/3 of the adult population feeds wild birds.
A wide variety of seeds can be used to bring birds to your feeder but three stand out as best to attract the most species: 1) black-oil sunflower seed (not the more familiar striped variety) attracts the widest variety of birds that eat seeds, 2) white millet appeals to doves, sparrows (there are many species of sparrows), juncos (snowbirds) and other birds that feed on the ground, 3) Niger (thistle) is a very small seed usually placed in a cylindrical feeder equipped with perches and small holes to extract seed. American goldfinches and purple finches are especially attracted to niger. It is more expensive but fewer species eat it: consequently it lasts longer. It’s best to avoid buying bags of colorful mixed seeds. They often contain common cereal grains such as milo, wheat, oats, and rice that few birds will eat. Cracked corn is good to spread on the ground under your feeder for doves and sparrows. Squirrels also eat corn and it helps to keep them off your feeder. Suet cakes are devoured by both insects and seed eating birds and a most valuable food source. It is more calorie rich than carbohydrates or protein.
The typical backyard bird does not weigh as much as two nickels. Birds spend most of their waking hours searching for food and consume 15% of their body weight overnight just keeping warm enough to survive.
Species most numerous at feeders such as goldfinches, house finches, mourning doves, cardinals, and tree and house sparrows for example, aren’t wed to a particular winter territory. They’ll move about if someone else has a better lunch counter. The woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice and to some extent, bluejays, are more likely to defend a territory around a particularly good feeder site.
Unfortunately, most of our songbird populations are plummeting, some seriously, so backyard feeders are great places to enjoy and help our feathered friends.
A cautionary note about cats: Many scientific research studies show cats are the biggest killers of wildlife. Just in America, it is estimated that cats, both pets and strays, kill 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds per year.
“If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”  - Charles Lindbergh