(ARA) - Every year, more and more people are adopting "outdoor pets" in their back yard, whether they are squirrels, rabbits or the most popular outdoor pets of them all -- wild birds. People have loved feeding birds almost since the beginning of time, but for most of those years there wasn't much nutritional science involved. We just put bread crumbs or bird seed in the yard and took what we could get. Luckily for wild birds, and those who love to feed them, times have changed.
Not only have feeders come a long way, but food itself has evolved as well. No longer is bulk seed the best way to feed birds. Instead, premium foods have turned wild birds into outdoor pets, providing them with superior nutrition and tempting ingredients. Not only has this resulted in crowded feeders, it's allowed wild bird enthusiasts to offer specific foods in hopes of attracting specific birds.
Bernie Place, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited on Monroe Street, recommends staying away from cereal grains, which can contain 50 to 75 percent filler. Milo and wheat are also not preferred by birds in our area.
We recommend higher concentrations of sunflower seeds, oil sunflower, striped sunflower, and safflower seeds - these are preferred more by birds in our area, Mr. Place says.
In winter, he says, cracked corn is good for groundfeeding birds, like junkos, sparrows, doves and even cardinals.
It s not recommended in summer because it attracts grackles, Mr. Place says.
What are the most popular wild birds to attract -- and how do you attract them? Trends indicate that these birds are the magnificent seven: northern cardinals, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds, finches, grosbeaks and indigo buntings. What follows is a list of these birds, where they live in the United States, what feeders they prefer and the foods they love. Look for premium outdoor pet mixes that include these ingredients, and you'll be on your way toward a new flock of outdoor pets.
This bright-red visitor is one of the most beloved of all wild birds. One of the most visually stunning birds in the world, cardinals make great outdoor pets. Cardinals live mainly in the eastern United States, from Canada all the way to the Gulf States. They will eat on hopper feeders, tube feeders with large holes and even platform feeders. They love seeds, but also fruit and berries, as well as nuts. Choose a high-quality wild bird food with these ingredients and cardinals will take notice. Cardinal-specific foods are a great bet, as long as they are clean and include real fruits and nuts, not just flavoring.
These friendly birds are popular partially because they are widespread -- virtually all of the northern states -- and partially because they are cheerful and active. Chickadees enjoy sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet, as well as berries in winter. These clinging birds will eat on hopper feeders, tube feeders and platform feeders. Most premium outdoor pet foods will attract chickadees.
They are pretty small, black and white with a tannish underbelly, Mr. Place says. He notes that they are woodland birds, most often seen in parks and neighborhoods, where there are a lot of hardwoods, and taller, more mature trees.
Often forgotten because of their names, woodpeckers actually love to eat on feeders as well as on trees. Downy woodpeckers range across most of the U.S., excluding the far southwest, and will eat on hopper feeders, platform feeders and wire mesh feeders. Downy woodpeckers love sunflower seeds, corn, tree nuts, suet and fruit, especially in winter. Premium foods with these ingredients, preferably containing real fruit and nuts, are excellent ways to attract these unique visitors.
An American icon, this wild bird is somewhat widespread east of the Rocky Mountains. These attractive birds will eat on platform feeders as well as on the ground. They will also eat suet. They love fruits and berries, and are particularly attracted to the Virginia Creeper, a woody vine that produces berries which are poisonous to mammals but fine for birds.
In winter, they resort to wooded areas where they find berries and survive the cold, Mr. Place says. At nesting time, they migrate to open areas - rural, large open grassy areas. They fly relatively low, catching insects. During spring, summer and fall, not too many people see them in their backyards.
A lot of people will feed them mealworms during the nesting time, he says. Mealworms are also attractive to warblers, the Eastern phoebe, gray catbirds, and robins.
There are many types of finches, and they are all well-loved. From the handsome house finch to the arresting goldfinch, there is almost certainly a member of the finch family who will visit your backyard. These friendly birds will eat from hopper feeders, tube feeders with small holes and special finch "sock feeders." These wild birds love thistle, seeds, fruit and suet.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks, blue grosbeaks and especially evening grosbeaks spread across much of the U.S. While not all grosbeaks are technically "related," they do share some similarities. Most will feed on hopper feeders, platform feeders and tube feeders with large holes. They like to eat seeds -- sunflower, in particular, as well as some fruits -- cherries are a favorite -- and corn. Put foods that include real fruit into your feeder. Wild Delight Fruit & Berry is a solid choice.
Rose breasted grosbeaks are seen in the middle of May, Mr. Place says. Also, the indigo bunting, but otherwise, they re not much around here.
A cousin of the cardinal, the male indigo bunting is deep, iridescent blue. These are some of the most stunningly beautiful birds in the wild. They eat on hopper feeders and platform feeders. Attract them to your yard by offering outdoor pet foods with mixed seeds and real nuts.
There are many more wild birds to feed, of course. In fact, discovering new visitors on your backyard feeders is one of the great joys of being a wild bird enthusiast. For more information on wild birds and their diets, pick up a book -- the National Audubon Society's North American Birdfeeder Handbook by Robert Burton is an excellent addition to any library.
Find out for yourself how exciting it can be to have outdoor pets flocking to your feeders. With the right mix of foods and feeders, you can make your yard into a popular destination for wild birds. Soon you'll be counting the number of outdoor pets that you call your own. Courtesy of ARA Content.