Tips for Feeding Birds in South Florida
Feeding birds is both entertaining and rewarding. Whether seedeaters, hummingbirds or fruit eaters are in your yard, you can offer each a little something special. Good quality feeders may seem costly but will actually save you money, aggravation and frustration in the long run. In our tropical climate, proper care of feeders is a must. We also have very clever squirrels and other opportunistic rodents that we must outwit. Some sort of baffle system or squirrel proof feeder is necessary if you wish to keep the seed from disappearing at an alarming rate.
Birds feel vulnerable when out in the open so try to place your feeder near a bush or tree, but far enough away (10-12 feet) so squirrels can't jump on it. They are natural acrobats and will amaze you with their persistence and logic! The feeders can be hung or mounted on a pole. It can take a while for birds to discover a new feeder so it's best to put minimum amounts of food until they include the new feeder in their daily feeding route.
Water is a great attractant and enjoyed by all the birds in your yard. It is very important to regularly clean your birdbath and replace the water. The closer it is to bushes or vegetation, the more readily the birds will use it. Moving water, such as a dripper or recirculating pump, is even better and acts as a magnet for birds. Avian Aquatics makes good products which may be purchased online or locally. Moving water also discourages mosquitoes from laying eggs.
Two basic types of seed feeders work well in South Florida; the tube feeder and the hopper. Droll Yankee makes excellent tube feeders and you may opt to add a round tray at the bottom for larger birds like Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays to perch. Heritage Farms Absolute hopper has an adjustable spring weight perch that closes the seed ports with a squirrel's weight. You can control how large a bird will be able to perch without triggering the closure. A third option is a combination of the two designs, called Squirrel Buster Plus. This is a hanging feeder with no need for a baffle, as long as the feeding ports are out of the squirrel's reach. If a squirrel gets on top of the feeder, its weight closes the feeding ports as it slides down the tube. The “skirt” that provides perches can be adjusted to discourage larger birds from eating all the seed.
Black oil sunflower seed is the universal and most preferred seed. It has the most nutrition per seed and the shell is fairly soft. Northern Cardinals can eat striped sunflower seeds but this seed is hard for other birds to crack open. Most importantly, avoid cheap mixed seed with large red seeds (red millet). It's used as filler, which the birds don't eat and it makes a mess, eventually rotting. White millet is eaten by doves and Painted Buntings but can sprout if the area is not raked clean. An excellent combination is black sunflower seed with some white millet in a Squirrel Buster Plus. Store the seed in a cool, dry location and keep the feeders clean. A 50/50 solution of white vinegar and hot water works well. If birds go to the feeder and don't eat, check the seed, it may be old. Discard wet or moldy seed and keep the area under the feeder clean and raked.
Use a platform or some type of open feeder if you wish to feed doves, grackles and parrots.
Our wintering hummingbirds usually arrive in October and remain until early April. They are fun to watch and readily eat from nectar feeders. The best feeder is a flat design with an all-red top (yellow attracts wasps and bees). Aspects Company makes an excellent hummingbird feeder called the Hummzinger. Since the sugar water has to be changed every 3-4 days here in South Florida, the Hummzinger Mini is perfect because of its small (8-oz) capacity. Once the solution ferments due to heat, the birds won't touch it. You can make your own sugar water easily and if you opt to buy nectar mix, make sure you don't buy the kind with red dye, since it promotes bacterial growth or can cause an allergic reaction in birds. The ratio of water to white sugar is 4:1 or 1 cup of water to ¼ cup of sugar. Bring this to a boil, let it cool and refrigerate it up to 10 days. Again, keeping the feeder clean is very important. The Hummzinger can go in the dishwasher (take off brass hanger) and a pipe cleaner makes cleaning the holes easy if you don't use a dishwasher. Decorative hummingbird feeders are pretty but very impractical. Hummingbirds are very territorial, even in winter. If you notice a hummer chasing off another, you may wish to hang a second feeder in another part of the yard.
If you have Northern Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, Red-bellied Woodpeckers or Spot-breasted Orioles in your yard, you may wish to offer cut up grapes, apples and raisins on a platform feeder. Offer only enough food that will be eaten during one day in order to keep it fresh and not to attract rodents. Spot-breasted Orioles (and other birds) love peanut butter. A good system is to bend a large spoon, nail it to a tree, add a long nail as a perch and add some cheap peanut butter. Then watch the fun! Put out small amounts at a time and patience is required with the squirrels. The fruit eating birds will also eat from a suet feeder. Only buy the non-melt type and offer it during the cooler months.