Early bird catches worm

Baby, it's cold outside. Snow is on the ground and all the bugs are frozen. But The birds on Finley Street know where to get breakfast every morning.

Father John T. Frary, a retired Episcopal priest currently on call at St. Mark's church in Craig, and his wife, Eloise, offer seed for their feathered friends.

"We decided the birds looked cold and hungry and we didn't see them getting much to eat, so we bought a bird feeder and put it in the back yard," John Frary said. "Now we have a hundred or more birds coming here every day."

John Frary's cousin, who lives on Taylor Street, said he doesn't see any birds in his yard. "I told him to get a bird feeder, then he'll see lots of birds," John said.

A lot of fat-breasted chickadees are regular guests of the Frary's, along with a few larger birds.

According to Karen Vail, program coordinator for Partners in Interpretation with Yampatika in Steamboat Springs, bird species that stay in northwest Colorado during the winter include chickadees, nuthatchers, juncos, woodpeckers, jays, magpies, crows and blue grouse. "Along the river you'll find mallards, American dippers and an occasional bald eagle," she said.

The Frary's have four cats, which can present a hazardous environment for birds. John's reputation for saving birds from harm's way goes back to when he was a youngster. "I used to rescue them, nurse them back to life and let them go," he said.

"We've given the cats two commandments," Eloise Frary said. "One: Thou shalt not kill squirrels. Two: Thou shalt not kill birds."

But cats are creatures who love to test limits. The Frary's black cat, "Inky," egged "Calico" on by twitching his tail too many mornings in a row. "Miss Calico" took up the challenge and downed a bird in flight, bringing it inside. Eloise promptly pried the bird loose from Calico's jaws and set it free.

"We had a serious talk with the cats after that. We just explained it to them and we've not had a problem since," Eloise said. She explained the "visual image" process of communicating with animals. "We concentrate on putting pictures in their minds of pushing the birds away."

Now the four cats line up on the patio in the morning, tails twitching, and simply watch the birds feed. Perfect little examples of "love thy neighbor" a concept John believes the cats don't understand. But they do understand Eloise's mind-pictures.

The cats aren't the birds' only threat. "The squirrels eat the bird food," John said.

"When you start feeding the birds, it's important to continue doing it," Vail said. "Birds come to depend on you as a food source and it stresses them especially in the winter if they have to suddenly go looking for a different place to feed."

Vail advises staying away from millet seed. "Most birds won't eat that," she said. "My favorite is hulled, crushed sunflower seed. And the other thing you can feed birds is rendered suet it's a high energy food. Birds tend to be pretty hyper, and the smaller birds have a really high metabolism."

She said to heat the suet in a pan, then stir in peanuts and seeds. When the mixture cools, form it into a ball and hang it from a tree branch. "It's also a good idea to put bird feeders where cats can't get to them like on a tall pole in an open spot, not next to a shrub where cats can hide and spring on birds feeding on the ground," Vail said.

The Frary's spend about $20 a month on birdseed, and Eloise plans to put out some suet.

"Suet warms their bodies," she said. Born in Korea, Eloise remembers climbing the big tree outside her house and tying a sheath of grain to a large branch in the winter so the birds would have something to eat.

"If we stopped feeding them, a lot would die in the cold weather,"Eloise said. "They have to eat to stay warm."

Birds do find food in the winter," Vail said. "You'll see them up in trees, looking in the bark and nipping off insects. Since we've moved into the bird's territory, it's nice to know we can help them out a little by feeding them."

But keeping birds alive isn't the only reason for feeding them. "There's the old popular saying: 'Take time to smell the roses,'" John Frary said. "Well, take time to look out in your own backyard and enjoy nature. Birds are part of God's creatures and part of our enjoyment their songs, their colors. I particularly enjoy the meadowlark but we don't hear it so much any more. We used to have morning doves in our back yard for a while now they're all gone."

"Birds bring beauty and joy into our lives, and it's important to help them, especially in the winter when their food is scarce," Eloise said.

What's on the menu?

Officials offer these tips for attracting birds to your backyard.

n Water is an important part of a bird's habitat. Wild birds need a continuous supply of fresh, clean water at all times of the year for drinking and bathing. A source of water can dramatically increase the number of wild birds you attract to your yard. During the colder months, fresh, unfrozen water is just as important as in the summer. Invest in a bird bath heater, or at the least place a small bowl of warm water out every day.

n High-energy suet is probably one of the most important offerings you can present to your birds in winter. Suet is a quick source of energy and a great way to substitute for the protein-rich insects that are hard to find in winter. Hang as many suet feeders around your yard as you can find room for.

Offering suet in a wire cage or suet log is a low-maintenance bird feeder. You refill it only once every week or so. You never need to scrub the feeder, and you can leave it in your yard year round. Presenting suet in your backyard will also attract a greater variety of birds for your enjoyment. Suspend the suet feeder in a tree close to the trunk, approximately five to six feet from the ground.

n Birds need plenty of roosting places during the winter to stay warm. Don't remove your birdhouses in the winter leave them up so birds can use them for shelters from the cold. Consider a winter roosting shelter.

n Save that Christmas tree. Instead of throwing it in the trash, throw it on the ground where it can offer shelter to birds. Take old shrubbery branches or logs and pile them up. Many birds will appreciate the extra cover.

n Many ground-feeding birds will welcome seed sprinkled on the snowy ground. Instead of raking leaves, leave them or pile them up in an area. Many insect-foraging birds will find tasty morsels hidden underneath the leaf shelter.

n Shelter your feeding areas. In winter, wild birds will favor sheltered locations. Strong winds are uncomfortable for birds and may scatter your bird seed. Consider moving your feeders to the south side of your home or to a more-sheltered location for the winter.

n This is a great time to experiment with different foods. With a platform feeder, you can add fruit and bakery products to your winter-feeding arsenal. Expand the menu by offering chopped nuts, doughnuts, popcorn, bakery crumbs, grapes, raisins, apple pieces and orange halves. Treat your birds to some home cooking by making muffins, bread and other snacks with sunflower seeds and nuts.

n The most frequent visitors to your backyard will be seed-eating birds. Black-oil sunflower seed is the most popular choice of seed-eating birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorses sunflower seed as the number-one choice for most wild birds. Black-oil sunflower has a higher percentage of meat and is a very nutritious source of high-quality protein. The softer outer shell makes it easy for smaller birds like chickadees and nuthatches to open and enjoy. The seed also boasts a high concentration of oil, which is especially important in the winter. Birds use oil glands to spread the oil over their feathers to keep themselves buoyant, dry and warm.

n Chickadees dine primarily on insects, seeds and berries. These active and agile little birds like to hang upside down from twigs or at your feeder. Pine seeds are an important natural vegetable food, along with the seeds and nuts of hemlock, birch, pine, walnut, ragweed and sunflower. Chickadees love black-oil sunflower seeds. They will typically take one seed from the feeder, fly away and perch nearby to eat it. Chickadees will visit your feeder one at a time, while others wait nearby for their turn. They also enjoy gray-striped sunflower seeds, peanut kernels, peanutbutter mixes and suet, blueberry, elderberry and bayberries. Chickadees are in constant motion and will appreciate lots of high-energy food. Offer a suet feeder placed near the trunk of a tree. Smear peanut butter onto tree trunks and branches.

n Pine siskins like the seeds of trees, especially alder, birch, spruce, pine, sweet gum and maple. Thistle or niger seed is a favorite at the backyard feeder for them, especially during the winter. They also enjoy whole or shelled sunflower seeds as well as canary seed, millet, and finely-cracked corn. They are partial to suet doused with insects.

n Goldfinches, purple finches, house finches, pine siskins and redpolls look especially beautiful against the winter back drop. Thistle or niger seed is an excellent source of energy for these finches in the winter. Because thistle seed is very small and expensive, you may want to invest in a specially-designed thistle feeder to dispense the seed economically.

n Juncos are primarily ground feeders, and enjoy the millet found in mixed bird seed, sunflower hearts and cracked corn spread on the ground or in a special ground-level platform feeder. Ground-level platform feeders offer a large feeding area and mesh bottoms that keep food off the ground, keeping it fresher and allowing for drainage. Juncos can sometimes be attracted to suet if it is offered low to the ground. Open ground and gardens that have gone to seed are a favorite haunt of juncos as they flock together in the winter. They are particularly fond of the seeds from cosmos and zinnia. Consider leaving a space in your yard untended and free of chemicals. Plant pines, sweet gum and Russian olives to attract these birds naturally.

n Bluejays The powerful, all-purpose bill of most jays efficiently handles a varied diet. Most of their diet is vegetable, but they also eat some insects. Their most important natural food source is acorns. They will also feed on berries, such as elderberries, cherries and dogwood. Peanuts will draw the jays into an area like a magnet. Offer whole peanuts in a large platform feeder or on the ground or flat surfaces. Jays will usually take one peanut, stuff it down its throat, then fill its mouth with another and quickly fly away to bury it. Jays also enjoy whole or shelled black-oil sunflower seed and striped sunflower seed. Because jays are large birds, offer their favorite foods in a ground level platform feeder or feeder with lots of perching space. Suet is also a favorite backyard feeder food, if Jays can get to it. Offer a source of water for drinking and bathing. The large jays are fun to watch splashing water in a birdbath.

n Titmouse Plant seed and nut bearing trees such as evergreens, beechnut and oak, and berry producing bushes, such as elderberry and bayberries. The Titmouse is a frequent visitor to feeders in the winter. Provide a feeding station with a hopper feeder and plenty of perching space. Fill it with peanut kernels or black-oil sunflower seeds, grapes, apples or berries. Offer a suet feeder placed near the bark of a tree. Smear peanut butter onto tree trunks and branches. Offer a source of water for drinking and bathing.

n Keep a good stock of bird seed in case of emergencies. You don't want to get caught short when you need it the most and the weather has gone bad. Consider storing more seed during the winter, or better yet, put a couple of bags in the trunk of your car for safe keeping. The extra weight will give you added traction when the roads are slick, and you'll always have a supply on hand for your hungry winter visitors!

n Don't forget about other wildlife. Put out dried corn cobs or cracked corn for deer, squirrels and chipmunks. They will also appreciate apple pieces.

Source: Wild Birds Forever, P.O. Box 4904, Blue Jay, CA 92317-4909.

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