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Get your backyard ready for our feathered friends

Mike Leggett, Venture Out

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Almost anything, such as this male cardinal, will eat straight black oil sunflower seeds, because of their soft shells and high fat content, says Rick Stults of Wild Birds Unlimited.

My grandkids can sit for hours just watching the birds at our feeders.

They know some of the birds, and they love to watch through binoculars. Sparrows, cardinals, lesser goldfinches, woodpeckers, painted buntings, white-winged doves, house finches and purple finches, chickadees and titmice. Oh, and hummingbirds, lots of hummingbirds.

Maybe you think it's early, but the spring migration already has begun, and now's the time to set up some backyard feeding stations to attract and hold birds in your neighborhood.

They can be elaborate, of course, but some sunflower seed on the ground can still be an effective feeding station. Just watch out for cats, though, if you're feeding a bunch on the ground.

Rick Stults and his wife, Kelle, own and operate Wild Birds Unlimited in Westlake. He has some tips to offer anyone who would like to build up a clientele among birds. "Especially if you're just starting out, at the very worst, get straight black oil sunflower seeds," Stults said. "Almost everything eats it because it has a soft shell and a fairly high fat content."

Homeowners can fine-tune their bird feeds with additional seeds such as white millet, which painted buntings like around our house in Burnet County, and peanuts and suet, which attract woodpeckers. "There are lots of woodpeckers" in and near Austin, Stults said, and those birds can broaden your birding experience.

Baltimore orioles, which have increased in numbers in the past couple of years, really like small oranges, Stults said. He recommends splitting them in half and hanging the halves on hooks in trees in your yard.

One thing to stay away from is milo, Stults said. The reddish, round seeds are common additives to less expensive seed mixes but nothing really likes that seed, and it winds up being passed over for more attractive food. "That's the stuff that you see growing under feeders because no birds like to eat it," he said.

Homeowners in Austin can't attract as wide a variety of birds as those in more rural areas. There are spatial and nesting issues at work there, of course, but there are still ways to increase the species you see. "Some people don't like sparrows but they can be an indicator species for other birds," Stults said. The common house sparrow gathers in fairly large colonies and when they are flying and feeding they'll often attract other birds that might not have stopped at your feeders.

And then there are the hummers, mostly black-chinned and ruby-throated, that are such favorites in the bird world. "Especially in the city, they can be very territorial," Stults said. He recommends multiple feeders with smaller amounts of feed in them, stationed so that the birds can't see more than one feeder at a time. That will help keep them from chasing each other away from the food.

And the food is simple: one part sugar to four parts water, boiled and allowed to cool before it goes into the feeder. Stults recommends cleaning feeders and starting over with new nectar every three days or so.

mleggett@statesman.com; @MikeLeggett1