There's an old yarn about the early bird always getting the worm - that applies in reverse - according to Webster County Conservation naturalist Karen Hansen, the early bird feeder gets the birds too.
"Get your feeders out now," she told a group gathered for a Brown Bag Briefing at the Fort Dodge Public Library recently, "The sooner you do that the better the chances they'll find you and put you on their feeding route."
Hansen said that while feeding birds in the backyard can and will provide hours of pleasure and relaxing bird watching, the food put out serves as a supplement to what they find to eat elsewhere.
Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Webster County Conservation naturalist Karen Hansen talks about a hummingbird feeder during a recent Brown Bag Briefing at the Fort Dodge Public Library. Hansen spoke about winter birdfeeding.
Missing a day or two won't harm them.
"They won't starve to death," she said.
What you feed and how you present it will determine what sort of birds are attracted to the feeding site.
"If you want to see woodpeckers and nuthatches," she said. "You almost have to put up suet."
For bluejays, which she said can be aggressive and even eat other birds eggs, the bigger seeds such as ground corn, peanuts and sunflowers are preferred.
They're also not really blue.
"The feathers are actually black," Hansen said. "They look blue in certain kinds of light."
Crackles and cardinals are another two species that like big seeds.
The black capped chickadee is usually the first species to arrive at a feeder where they announce dinner.
"The food's here the food's here is what their call sounds like," she said.
Some of the birds a feeder might see are not welcome guests. They are even considered pests.
The starling is one of these as is the house finch which was first spotted in Iowa in 1982.
"They're crowding out the native purple finch," she said.
Another pest - the ever inventive feed robber - the squirrel.
Hansen said a number of anti-squirrel baffles and other devices are available, the pole the feeder is on can be greased too but in the end, nothing may work.
"They are crafty," she said.
Another problem, the large number of birds at a feeder also attracts their pray. Hawks can become a problem as can the common house cat. She recommends taking down the feeder for a few days if either becomes a problem. Feeders should also be at least five feet off the ground to deter cats.
She also stressed that birds need more than food, shelter and water are the two other parts of the equation as is space.
For long term benefits, planting vegetation that provides seeds and berries for birds will always be helpful. Species such as redbud, crabapple, sumac and highbrush cranberry can provide fall and winter food. In addition, they also offer shelter.
"It's important that we plant native species," she said. "We're already battling invasive species."
Her final bit of advice?
"Enjoy," she said, "You can learn so much by watching at your window and watching the birds feed."
Even if you didn't put out any worms.