Attempting to feed wild birds brings up the significant question of responsibility. Birds tend to rely on feeders as part of their winter food. Feeders likewise become an enticement for birds to stay in an area at a time when they usually would disperse or move south to locate a natural supply of food. Ornithologists think some seed-eating bird species, like the Northern Cardinal, Bushtit, Tufted Titmouse, and Scrub Jay, have expanded their winter ranges and increased in numbers because of the abundant supply of food at feeders.
To avoid deserting birds to the peril of a short winter food supply, you should answer particular questions: Can you tend feeders almost each day? Could you fill them with adequate amounts of food to last during times when you should be away, or are there numerous reliable feeders nearby? If you can’t answer such questions affirmatively, you probably shouldn’t start a feeder, especially if you live where natural food could be in short supply during winter.
Other birders oppose all feeding wild birds, claiming that birds turn dependent on handouts. But home feeders have gone so prevalent over the U.S. and Canada that this scheme of supporting birds can’t be given up. Also, it is a means of attracting birds for people who may otherwise not see and get to know them.
What to Feed Wild Birds
Feed stores don’t readily label seeds as reliably as one would want, so know how to identify seeds yourself to get just what you want for your birds. Commercially boxed wild bird-seed is mostly satisfactory in every part of the U.S. and Canada. Composed for comparatively large regions, this food isn’t always appropriate for birds of a particular local area and inevitably includes much inexpensive, relatively unpalatable seed. This isn’t the fault of the commercial packagers, since creating custom-made recipes for local areas is not practical.
You must first put out packaged food to ascertain which seeds these birds favor. Then you can buy the preferred seeds from a grain and feed market and create your own mix. Just make sure the seed you buy is clean and polished.
Just like humans, wild birds might avoid particular food if it is not just right for them. Sunflower seeds and cracked corn suffer quality if left in sacks or cans over the summer, so birds coming back to a feeder in autumn might ignore them. Also, insects could infest stored seed and produce distasteful dirt and fecal matter. If you scatter this old seed on the ground away from the base of your bird feeder, it probably would be eaten but will also attract pests.
There are special mixes for certain types of wild birds, but before getting them it is wise to check range maps in a field guide or bird book to be sure species you want to draw in occur in your area. Be patient. The birds may not be drawn in instantly.