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Backyard Bird Feeding in North Dakota

Cat in feeder

House Cats

House cats, whether your own or feral, are one of the most devastating predators of songbirds, especially at bird feeders. Most people do not realize the extent of this problem because they either love them as pets or only see them with one dead bird at a time. Estimates vary about how many cats live in the United States, but a conservative estimate would put the population at about 55 million. If 80 percent of those cats were a combination of feral or house cats that were allowed outside, and if only one cat in 10 caught one bird per day, 4.4 million birds would be killed per day by free roaming cats . Quite an unnecessary impact! So what can you do to protect the birds that visit your feeder from cats? If you own a cat, do not allow it to roam outside unattended. If the cat belongs to a neighbor, ask them to keep it out of your yard. Feral cats should be caught in live traps and turned over to the local animal control officer. Place your feeder and bird bath a minimum of eight feet from bushes, trees, or other hiding places where cats can wait to prey on visiting birds.

Squirrel in feeder

Squirrels

If you have seen squirrels in your neighborhood, it is a sure bet that they will find your feeder. Squirrels are considered a nuisance around bird feeders and will scare away the birds you are trying to attract. Here are four suggestions on how to cope with squirrels that visit your backyard:

1. Place your feeder at least 8-10 feet away from any tree. Squirrels are exceptional jumpers and will have no problem leaping to a feeder that is within 6 feet of a tree.

2. Place an umbrella-shaped guard on your feeder. When placed below a pole mounted feeder or above a hanging tube feeder, the guard prevents squirrels from accessing the feeder and its seed supply.

3. Squirrel-proof your feeders. Squirrels are members of the rodent family and thus can easily chew through plastic and rope. If you buy a tube feeder, make sure the feeding ports are reinforced with galvanized steel. The reinforced feeding ports prevent squirrels from chewing through and ruining your feeder. Hang your tube feeder with wire or braided fishing line, not rope or string.

4. Finally as the old saying goes, "If you can't beat em', join em." More than likely, you may have to eventually give in to the squirrels. One way of coping is to fill a five gallon plastic bucket one-fourth full with corn and set it off to the side of your feeder. The squirrels will learn to sit in the bucket and eat their fill instead of using your bird feeder as their restaurant.

House Sparrow - male

House Sparrows, Starlings, and Grackles

House sparrows, starlings, and grackles are three birds that you do not want to attract to your feeder. Eventually, one or all will find your feeder which will cause you to seek a solution on how to rid your feeder of these unwelcome guests. But why the fuss? Each of these three species travel in flocks and are very aggressive towards other birds. It is not uncommon to see 50 house sparrows or grackles raiding your feeder while chickadees, nuthatches, and siskins wait in a nearby tree to get a chance to feed. Not only do they keep desirable birds from feeding, but they usually leave a mess of discarded seed and bird droppings for you to clean up. Of more concern is the harm they cause native songbirds such as bluebirds, tree swallows, and chickadees. House sparrows and starlings are cavity nesters, as are bluebirds and tree swallows, and compete ferociously with these species for nesting space. A house sparrow or starling will often enter the cavity where a native songbird is nesting and kill the incubating female and chicks. So it would not only be beneficial to keep house sparrows and starlings from your feeder, but to also keep them from nesting in your yard.

What can you do to limit the number of visits of these 'pest' birds at your feeder?
Here are a few suggestions:

1. Do not feed bread! House sparrows, and especially starlings, love bread. If you run out of seed, it is better to wait until you buy more than to put out bread crumbs.

House Sparrow - female2. Avoid white proso millet or 'canary seed'. White proso millet is a controversial component of wild bird food. Many seed companies use it as a filler to make their basic mix. It is the cheapest bird food available but definitely not the best. Many ground feeding birds such as our native sparrows, purple finches, and mourning doves prefer white millet but so do house sparrows. If you have a house sparrow problem at your feeder, do not feed white proso millet. Most of the desirable birds that are attracted to white proso millet will do just as well with black oil sunflower, a seed that house sparrows do not prefer.

3. If the previous suggestions do not help, there are commercial live traps available. Contact the Nongame Program for information on how to obtain these devices. Also, house sparrows and starlings are exotic species and not protected by law. As a last resort, they may be shot in rural areas where firearm ordinances permit. IMPORTANT! Before doing this, make sure you can correctly identify house sparrows from our native sparrows!

4. Common grackles are native birds that are protected by law. Unfortunately, they can become quite abundant at feeders during spring and fall migration. Grackles are very aggressive and will prevent other birds from using your feeder. If they become a problem, empty your feeder for 2-3 days. Grackles are opportunistic feeders and will hopefully move on in search of a new food source.



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