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Tips to keep birds coming throughout the winter

Now that September is here, can cold be far away? During summer we do not feed birds often because gardens provide ample seeds and bugs, thus we slack off and only put out a little bird seed.
Now that cold is approaching, Oct. 15 is the possible date here in the Tri-Cities for a first killing frost, we can identify seeds to leave on a few plants and also add more feed to the bird feeder.
In fact, a recent telephone caller mentioned that maintaining some seed in the feeder year-round encourages birds to eat grubs that are larvae of Japanese beetles. Research shows blackbirds, song sparrows, catbirds, robins and grackles eat these larvae. Starlings, common grackles and crows also enjoy Japanese beetle grubs.
For cold weather bird food, add a block of suet with seeds, berries or nuts to a birdfeeder. If you have a wooden feeder, it is easy to attach a metal basket to hold suet blocks to an existing feeder. A suet block will not work in summer because suet, which is fat, will melt. It is also possible to make our own blocks using peanut butter. Suet with peanut butter, used in summer, will gum-up a bird’s beak, causing much distress and misery for the bird.
It is also possible when using a metal post and a wooden feeder to attach various shapes and levels to the original feeder. A hammer and a few nails will handle the job nicely. It is fun to observe such a feeder, with different treats in each level and a suet basket on a side or end. Be sure it is easily reached for refilling all levels.
Many birds remain here for winter if we encourage them and they learn to eat at our feeders. The yellow finch, its plumage gradually changing from bright yellow to a soft brown, remains all winter, as does the robin.
Many birds visit us in their migrations and stay a few weeks or longer in fall and spring. It is fun to note various birds and when they are here in a garden notebook or diary, and compare dates from year to year.
Hummingbirds often remain here until late fall, before beginning or continuing their migration to warmer areas. Therefore, keep hummingbird feeders clean and filled until sometime into November. Wouldn’t it be nice if birds could write a tiny bird-sized thank you note to say how much they appreciate our gifts of food and bird feeders that accommodate a variety of birds? Sometimes it is interesting to place one seed mixture in the top feeder and a different mixture in the bottom.
Be sure to place a feeder where it can be observed from inside; then it is possible to observe birds no matter how cold it gets. Simply grab a cup of hot tea or coffee and sit to watch. This is a delightful, restful activity.
Happy Gardening Everyone!
Jeanne Cope is a Garden Writer and UT Life Master Gardener. Email her [email protected]