Nick Clausen is in the business of selling bird feeders.
At the Backyard Nature Center, which he owns with his wife, Cathy, there are feeders of assorted sizes, prices and designs.
All will work, but Clausen said they’re not the real key to successful bird feeding.
“The most important thing about bird feeding stations is what you put into them,” Clausen said as he looked out over the dozen-or-so feeders in his yard. “You can’t just fill something with a bird food and have good results.”
Clausen said many commercial mixes come with a high percentage of wheat and milo, grains that aren’t high on the preference list for most birds.
Such grains often go to waste, he said, as birds scratch them out of the way to get to a more preferred food. That’s often black oil sunflower seeds.
Bob Gress, a noted wild bird photographer and retired Great Plains Nature Center director, said he relies heavily on sunflower seeds for the feeders he has in his yard.
“There are a variety of foods, but I think (sunflower seeds) attract the largest variety of birds,” said Gress. “There’s not much that won’t eat black oil sunflower seeds. I don’t really think I’d get many other kinds of birds if I put out more kinds of seeds.”
Gress said he’s seen as many as 150 birds at a time when conditions are right.
Clausen, though, utilizes specific foods for specific species of birds.
He has feeders with peanuts and suet for birds that normally feed on insects, such as woodpeckers, chickadees and winter wrens.
Some are pretty specialized to discourage the wrong sort of critter from getting at the goodies.
One thin, hanging feeder is made so the suet is about a half-inch or so inside the feeder down a thin crack.
“It’s pretty neat, because things like starlings can’t reach the suet,” Clausen said, “but woodpeckers have longer tongues and they can reach the suet.”
Some feeders are enclosed in small cages so birds such as goldfinches can access the food but bigger undesirables, such as grackles, blue jays or squirrels can not.
It’s important, he said, to have feeding stations available for all kinds of birds.
Many species can’t crack shells, so he has sunflower hearts available.
“Sunflower hearts are probably, overall, the best bird attractant you can feed,” Clausen said. “About any bird that can land on a feeder will eat them.”
Though expensive, he likes that sunflower hearts leave little mess and won’t sprout if mixed into the soil.
It’s also important to have food available for birds that don’t feed on perches, such as most sparrows.
For them, most feeding operations should have a simple tray feeder. That can be a tray at the bottom of a tube feeder or a specially-made tray that fits to a window or deck.
Some tray feeders can be pretty primitive and simple. Pete Janzen, a local author on Kansas birds, utilizes old slabs of logs, hollowed out a bit in the center, with quarter-inch holes drilled so moisture drains.
Having plenty of moisture available for birds to drink is important, too.
“Something a lot of people miss out on is bird bath with a heater,” said Chuck Otte of Junction City. “There are a lot of birds that will come to a bird bath that aren’t really coming to bird feeders. We’re in the middle of a drought, and if you have water you will have a lot of birds.”
Like the rest of the avid feeders, Otte stressed the importance of having cover near feeding locations.
“They need to feel safe coming to the feeders,” he said. “They need cover from airborne threats, like Cooper’s hawks and terrestrial threats … cats.”
Otte referenced a Georgia study that estimated American house cats kill more than a million birds a day.
Janzen has gone to great lengths to grow and nurture assorted vegetation to offer birds shelter and food.
Clausen has, too, but said the brushpile they annually make from yard limb-trimmings is often alive with winter birds, too.
Otte does a lot of planting, but he’s also found a quick way to add more cover to his feeding area.
“We took our Christmas tree down yesterday,” he said in a midweek interview. “It’s in the backyard, by a feeder. Within five minutes there were juncos going into it. It’s great cover.”