Now when it comes to food, that’s a different matter! Birds do know the difference, and some have definite preferences. Of course, there is always the exception — the bird that eats anything.
For starters: Sunflower seeds will attract a lot of different birds, and if you look closely you will see that these birds all have a powerful beak — all the better to crack the tough shells. Sunflower seeds have a high oil content which the birds need in cold weather. They’re attractive to cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, and chickadees — and yes, squirrels too.
Corn attracts sparrows, pigeons and mourning doves — and turkeys!
Fruits attract finches and most other songbirds. Pieces of apple and oranges are much appreciated for their water content as well as their meal.
Millet attracts sparrows and doves.
What about all the shells that birds leave behind? If you are really fussy, you can make bird feeding very clean. Use hulled food, like hulled sunflower seeds, sometimes marketed as sunflower hearts, and shelled peanuts. It’s more expensive, but clean. Every bit will be eaten.
For gourmet feed, put out thistle. There’s also mixed seed by the pound — it’s not gourmet, but it feeds and nourishes the birds quite well and is available in sacks wherever seed is sold. It usually contains varying amounts of sunflower, corn, millet and other grain.
If you are buying in bulk, be sure the seed is clean and is not contaminated with moths or maggots. If you see them in your sack of seed, place the seed outdoors in a metal can and let them freeze for a few days.
Be sure to announce the arrival of your birdie restaurant with a scoop of seed — and stand back; they will be standing in line.
This week’s dirt: 12th Night: Jan. 6. According to legend, if there are any greens left in the house after that date, bad luck will follow the rest of the year.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday’s Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by email at email@example.com or write to her c/o The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns are at www.nsgardener.com.