In April I usually start changing the mix of bird foods that I offer in my back garden feeders. There are a few reasons for this. First off, I want to get ready for the neotropical migrants – orioles, grosbeaks, indigo buntings, etc. – that usually arrive in Chicago right around May 1. If you can snag these birds when they first arrive, they are likely to stick around for a while at least.
Also, spring tends to bring large numbers of grackles and starlings to the backyard feeders. I have nothing against these birds individually, but in groups they become Hordes of Giant Black Locusts that devour everything in their path. These birds love peanuts above everything else, and so in spring I stop offering peanuts (a good food for winter), both shelled and in the shell.
Here’s what I do offer:
Nutrasaff Safflower Seed. Safflower is popular as a substitute for sunflower because grackles and other bully birds don’t like it. However, safflower hulls can accumulate into a big mess just like sunflower, though safflower is not toxic to plants the way sunflower hulls are. Hulled sunflowers avoid the mess on the ground, but they’re expensive and will be scarfed up with alarming speed by the bully birds.
Nutrasaff is a new hybrid safflower with an extremely thin hull that makes a minimal mess. It also has a higher fat and protein content than regular safflower. I’ve found it to be a good value because, though it is expensive, it lasts longer. While the bully birds give it a peck now and then, they just won’t scarf it down. At the same time, cardinals, goldfinches, house finches, and chickadees seem to like it just as much as sunflower or safflower.
In terms of migrants, safflower will attract rose breasted grosbeaks. It’s important to offer the seed on a platform feeder of some kind, because grosbeaks eat on the ground and are less likely to perch on tube feeders. The same is true of cardinals, as both are large finches. Grosbeaks seem to hang around for a month or so before moving on to wherever grosbeaks go.
Grape Jelly. This is what draws the Baltimore orioles. Orioles are more common in the Chicago area than most people realize, but they tend to stay in the tree tops. They will come down to earth, however, for grape jelly. There are oriole feeders you can buy or just put some in a little bowl. Oranges will also attract Baltimore orioles. Once the orioles arrive, we’ve found that they tend to keep visiting the feeders until September.
Nyjer Seed. For the goldfinches.
Rendered Suet. You can buy cakes of this stuff, which will attract nuthatches and all kinds of woodpeckers. I use the plain suet rather than the kind that is mixed with ground peanuts and other ingredients, which is done to prevent melting. In my shady back garden melting has never been a problem even on hot summer days. Moreover, the peanuts in the suet attract the bully birds and house sparrows, which will eat far more than the woodpeckers.
White Millet. I spread this on the ground in late April and early May to attract indigo buntings. I’ve had limited success, though, as we’ve had only a couple of sightings.
Do you feed the birds in spring and summer?