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Feed the birds for hours of entertainment

Bird watching has become an important part of my mother’s daily life as she sits for hours watching a menagerie of her winged friends.
Enjoyed by people of all ages, this hobby seems to become more pronounced as the leaves fall and cold weather arrives. Providing ample feed and water is the key for successful bird watching.
A consistent source of water is very important for attracting birds and their winter survival, especially with winter upon us. Special bird bath heaters keep water flowing during freezing temperatures, providing birds with a ready source of water. These heaters don’t actually warm the water, but keep the temperature just high enough to prevent freezing. A few days of water often is the difference between life and death for small or weak birds.
Bird feeders, food and other bird-related products are stock items for most garden centers and retail outlets, especially during the holiday season. Correct bird food is an indispensable method of attracting our feathered friends.
Sunflower, the most common of all bird seed, is available as striped, black oil or sunflower hearts. Larger birds such as cardinals enjoy the striped sunflower seed, while chickadees, finches and other small birds prefer black oil sunflower seed. Sunflower hearts are the favorite of most all birds, especially with birds trying to feed their young.
“Cajun Cardinal” is a new blend of sunflower and safflower seeds with a hint of habanero pepper. The hot pepper additive is added to thwart pesky squirrels, but it does not affect the feeding habit of birds. Birders have reported good success with this blend.
Cracked corn attracts larger birds such as doves and blue jays. Larger, more aggressive birds may be distracted by placing cracked corn away from smaller feeders.
Millet is usually sold as filler for seed mixtures.
Smaller birds like sparrows, juncos and chickadees like this seed, as well as the larger dove.
Thistle is a favorite food of yellow finches, but the cost is fairly high because it is imported from Africa. Many bird watchers choose to combine thistle, black oil sunflower and millet as the ultimate bird food.
Suet is a food source containing a mixture of animal fat and a blend of different types of grain and nuts. The fat content is a source of energy, which is especially important for winter survival. Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers enjoy suet cakes. Suet cakes are a winter food and should be removed in the spring. Warm spring temperatures cause the fats in the suet cakes to become rancid, making birds sick.
Birds may be wary of new foods, so if you add something new to your birdfeeding station, offer it in a familiar place. If you buy a lot of seed, store it in a cool, dry place, in a rodent-proof, metal can and be sure to check the seed often for mold.
Dispose of any seed that is questionable. Do not feed birds any foods that contain chocolate. An ingredient of chocolate ó theobromine ó is toxic to birds, just as it is to dogs and cats.
More information on attracting birds and bird feeders can be found at http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/wildlife/ g669.htm.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County; call 704-216-8970; http://www.rowanmaster gardener.com.

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