By Don Messersmith
A number of studies have shown that providing food for wild birds is a very beneficial pastime for older folks, especially those with mobility problems. Placing a feeder outside a window can provide hours of amusement and even be a learning activity as the seasons change and the birds change their plumage. Equally interesting are the birds that arrive in the fall to spend the winter or others that arrive in the spring to nest in our area. The behavior of birds to their own kind or to other species is always amusing and informative. However, some important guidelines must be followed if one is to attract the “good” birds.
Permission to feed birds at Riderwood was suspended a few years ago, because some residents were throwing out bread and other food. This practice attracted unwanted pigeons and sparrows which made a mess and attracted rats that came for the leftovers. I conducted an experiment using accepted feeders and proper foods for the past three years. No pigeons ever came to my feeders and I never detected the presence of a rat. As a result, bird feeding can be resumed here provided the guidelines are followed. The main regulation is that only people with patios can feed birds, because feeding from higher balconies can permit the debris to fall on resident’s balconies below them. Below I am outlining proper feeders and foods that can be used.
Goldfinches and house finches are attracted to tube-shaped thistle feeders which are supplied with nijer seeds, misnamed thistle seeds. Most other birds come to feeders supplied with a mixture of seeds usually containing sunflower, millet, cracked corn and sometimes peanuts. Black oil sunflower seeds are better for birds than striped sunflower seeds, but they cost a little more. For your patio you may want to buy “patio mix” which does not leave a mess of husks. The husks have been removed before packing. Mockingbirds and robins are attracted to raisins. It is also a good idea if you have a feeder hanging from a hook or pole to buy a round dish-type catch basin to keep the debris from falling to the ground. Nectar feeders will attract hummingbirds. The Giant grocery store has inexpensive bird seed in the pet department, but there are several Wild Bird stores in the area that sell bird food and the Audubon Sanctuary Shop in Chevy Chase has a good assortment of feeders, bird baths, and seeds.
It is good to provide water in a bird bath and suet for woodpeckers in addition to seed feeders. Do not put out a platform feeder, because these provide easy access to squirrels. Of course, squirrels are a problem for many kinds of feeders except those designed to repel squirrels. If other kinds of vermin are attracted, simply stop feeding for a while. It is important to not put out bread, crackers or any kind of baked goods. The scraps may attract rats and this sort of food is not good for birds. Bread, etc. swells in their stomach and gives them a false sense of fullness which could lead to malnutrition in winter and they cannot process salt which acts as a toxin in their body. Due to Administration’s concern about feeder debris and bird droppings, only persons having a patio are permitted to put out bird feeders within the three-foot edge of their patio.
Since Riderwood opened in 2000, more than 100 different kinds of birds have been spotted on or flying over the campus. The Riderwood Birding Group has a one-hour bird walk every Tuesday morning in the fall and spring, weather permitting; every other Tuesday in the other seasons. The group meets in the Lakeside Commons lobby at 8:00 AM. All are welcome regardless of bird knowledge. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have about feeding birds or other questions about birds. I can be contacted via phone at 301-890-1952.