(Clockwise Left to Right) Rose-breasted grosbeak, Baltimore oriole, Indigo bunting, Goldfinches Photos by Bill Schanen IV
Black-oil sunflower seeds, oranges, grape jelly, thistle seeds are popular
People who feed birds only in winter are missing a chance to lure songbirds searching for mates and staking out territories as well as migrating birds seeking food to continue their journey, said ornithologist Noel Cutright, who lives near the Cedarburg Bog in the Town of Saukville.
Providing oranges for Baltimore orioles in spring, thistle seed for goldfinches and sugar water for hummingbirds are fairly common spring and summer endeavors, but adding black-oil sunflower seeds, white millet, suet cakes and cobs of corn will lure many more species and, with luck, a rare visitor, he said.
“If you have to pick only one thing to feed, black-oil sunflower seeds is what I tell people to buy,” Cutright said. “There is more meat per pound and more calories than in black-striped sunflower seeds. Small birds as well as larger birds like it.”
The seeds and suet will lure red-bellied woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, Indigo buntings, nuthatches, orioles and other birds.
Cutright scatters white millet on the ground near his porch for ground-feeding birds, such as mourning doves and juncos.
Goldfinches are flocking to the thistle-seed feeders and net bags in Cutright’s front yard. Thistle seed, also known as niger seed, gets moldy when wet, so only enough seed that will be eaten in one day should be put out, he said.
He and his wife Kate Redmond stick orange halves on nails for Baltimore orioles. When the oranges, which provides quick energy, are eaten, the couple fill the shells with grape jelly. They also put jelly in jar lids and shallow cans, such as tuna fish cans, throughout the summer.
“We go through 20 pounds of grape jelly a year, so we watch for sales,” Cutright said. “Parents will bring their young to the jelly or carry it to them in the nest.”
To lure hummingbirds, he recommends boiling one cup of sugar in four cups of water, then cooling the mixture before putting it in a feeder.
“Every hummingbird feeder has red on it so there is no reason to color it. It’s an additive that isn’t needed,” Cutright said. “Put out only as much as will be used in a day or two and keep the rest refrigerated.”
He doesn’t put out stale bread or pastry because they attract starlings.
“The two species people should try to keep away are house sparrows and starlings because they’re aliens and compete with native birds,” Cutright said. Redmond fills the feeders every morning.
“He’s gone so much that if I didn’t do it, the feeders would go empty a lot,” Redmond said.
However, one thing she will not handle are the deer ribs her husband hangs on an old swing set for birds to get suet, fat and marrow. The couple allow deer hunters on their 10-acre wooded property provided the hunters give them the rib cage after the deer is processed.
Oranges, grape jelly, black-oil sunflower seeds and sugar water for hummingbirds are among the food Noel Cutright puts out to lure nesting and migrating birds to his Town of Saukville home. Photos by Sam Arendt“All birds and animals come to it,” Cutright said. “One time I had a possum at one end and a red-tailed hawk on the other end. The possum kept watching the hawk.
“I see it as another way of recycling, a use of a natural food source rather than throwing it away.”
Most bird fatalities are caused by cats and collisions with windows, Cutright said.
His windows are reflective coated and have hawk silhouettes to discourage birds from flying into them.
Using window feeders and placing feeders close to windows cut down on window collisions because birds slow down when approaching feeders.
Birds of prey will sometimes flush small birds into windows, then pick up the stunned or dead bird.
“It’s a lot easier than catching them while flying,” Cutright said.
Cats, he said, should not be allowed to roam freely because they prey on birds.
“On our Christmas bird counts, the numbers were always down at feeders where we saw cats,” he said.
FEEDERS FILLED WITH birdseed mixes for cardinals and goldfinches and suet holders were checked by Vicky Trent at her Port Washington home. It’s also important to provide shelter for birds by placing feeders near trees or bushes. Cutright has enough trees on his property that it’s not a concern.
Feeders placed in the open will not be as popular as those near shelter.
Vicky Trent, who is the horticulturist at Drew’s True Value Hardware in Port Washington, also offers advice to people buying birdseed, feeders and birdhouses. She feeds birds year-around because she loves seeing the different varieties that come to the feeders at her Port Washington home and hearing them sing.
“I’m really partial to the thistle sacks. Goldfinches love the sacks. I had 20 finches on one of them last week,” Trent said. “The finches love the new songbird mix. That’s my splurge.”
She puts an inexpensive birdseed mix in a feeder that attracts ground-feeding birds.
“In the other feeders, I’ll put a mix that brings cardinals and other birds. Sometimes, I splurge and get the fruit and nut mix,” Trent said. “I put oranges and hummingbird feeders out front because I like to see them through the window.”
Trent said she doesn’t have a problem with squirrels and deer getting at her feeders because they find her neighbors’ yards with fruit trees more attractive.
A cat Named Bug eyed the birdfeeders outside his window from a safe perch inside Trent’s home. Cats and window collisions account for many bird fatalies.
“I have a few squirrels and just let them do their thing. They’re fun to watch,” she said.
Her two cats are not left outdoors unattended. They are allowed off leashes only when she is working in the yard.
There are elaborate bird-feeder systems available to thwart squirrels, including collapsible perches and motor-driven revolving bases that are triggered by the squirrel’s weight and flings the animals off the feeder.
There are baffles that fit above and below feeders and metal feeders “guaranteed” to be squirrel-proof.
“Like anything, people can spend as much money as they want on feeders, from a few bucks to $5,000 for a copper-roofed feeder that matches their house,” Cutright said.
“But you can make feeders from cast-off items and all it will cost you is the seed, which isn’t cheap. It’s more expensive to buy mixes with fillers birds don’t eat.”
Cutright said he noticed many empty bird feeders during the Christmas bird count in December.
“I think it’s because of the economy. If you need to cut expenses, birdseed will be one of the first things cut,” he said.
“Birds never depend on one feeder. They have natural food and other home feeders to go to.”
Cutright said he’s been watching and feeding birds since he was born. His mother bathed him in the kitchen sink with a bird feeder outside the window.
“My mother said I would get so excited when I saw the birds,” he said.
Cutright was the senior ecologist for We Energies for 30 years and still has an office in the Port Washington plant as the emeritus ecologist. He gives numerous presentations on bird-related and ecological issues.
“I was very fortunate to have my avocation and vocation be the same,” he said.
“One of the goals I have in life is to keep all the bird species from declining. Last year, Wisconsin was the No. 1 state for documented bluebird production. When I moved here in 1977, bluebirds were very scarce. Now, they’re nesting in
Cutright has had to curtail some activities, including several bird counts, while he battles cancer. He hopes to return to them this year.