Saturday, March 01, 2008

Feeding The Songbirds & Wildlife

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I feed the birds and other critters all winter. My belief is it is a great and wonderful thing to do. Granted, the expense does mount up but it’s something I consider worthwhile.

Doing so helps me give something back to the animals and birds that provide me with so much enjoyment during the year. Food plots were planted, and they feed deer and other animals and birds from the first green-up until winter arrives. Once heavy snow and ice storms arrive, the food plots do little for deer and turkeys now but will be handing in the spring.

The birds get fed every day at the feeders. There are sunflower seeds and thistle seed. The woodpeckers get a big chunk of suet, and some of the other birds peck at it a bit. The meaty suet gives birds an extra boost that seems to warm them up.

Seventy-five yards behind my house is one of my food plots. There’s not much to it now that ice and snow has covered the ground although deer occasionally paw through the snow and nibble at the old clover.

It satisfies all the rules that pertain to winter feeding. I distribute carrots, corn and sugar beets over the prescribed 10 X 10-foot area, and each day when I go out, there are deer tracks everywhere.

So far there is no sign of wild turkeys, and I seldom see them until the winter weather turns really harsh or spring arrives, whichever comes first.  Two months ago, it seemed to be inhabited by does and young fawns from last spring although it’s possible that a buck that has lost his antlers may be coming in and pawing around a bit.

Frankly, I’m not 100 percent sure what comes to dine behind the house.  Deer are common, and so too are rabbits and squirrels. On a warm sunny day we occasionally see a raccoon track or an opossum in the melting snow.

I adhere to the two-gallon restriction. See, I really don’t want to feed the animals. It would be impossible to do and is illegal as well.

Some carrots, some corn and some chopped-up sugar beets do the job. I want the animals to fend for themselves as much as possible, but I’m willing to offer a free handout all winter.

The only bad thing about it is the animals rarely show up during daylight hours. I put a tiny handful of corn out front because we often have ruffed grouse nesting nearby. We see them more often than we see the deer, and winter grouse usually show up just before dark.

They peck away at the corn, and just as it starts getting almost dark, up they fly into the trees for the night. Sometimes, when the night is bright, the grouse can be seen roosted in the trees. That is a special bonus that we treasure.

We’ve enjoyed having wild turkeys stop by in the past, and one winter we helped feed a flock of about 40 birds. Once, a bird with a 12-inch paint brush for a beard, brought his hens and little ones in every day for a visit.

The birds would fly up onto the deck of the house and try to eat seed from the bird feeder, and they would walk up and down the deck. They usually roosted in trees behind the house but often would roost on the peak of our house roof or the peak of the garage roof.

The big gobbler was having a bad time of it, and a ball of ice as big as a golf ball covered his middle toe. He quit coming for a few days and I was afraid a coyote had pulled him down, but when he showed up, the ball of ice and middle toe were gone. The toe had frozen and broke off.

The birds came in January and kept coming all winter. One day, not too long after the melted in April, some idiot poached a big gobbler from his car window, ran onto my land, grabbed the flopping bird, threw it into the trunk and rapidly drove away. Those birds never came back.

Birds and animals will come to the winter handout, but once it is started, it must continue. To abandon the feeding, especially during a bad winter, will cause irreparable damage to our wildlife. The result can be the loss of some deer and turkeys.

We do it to help give something back to the wildlife community. It can be a major expense, but I’ve found that it makes me feel good. And watching the animals and birds as they feed is far more entertaining than watching the soaps on television.

But then, that’s just one man’s opinion.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/01 at 06:03 PM
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