Thursday, November 12, 2009


When October comes along we stock up on bird seed for the winter and try to make the right choices; some cheap brands are no good. A visit to the Cornell University Ornithology lab website would help us know what is best. Here we learn that some of the most common seeds are: sunflower, safflower, millet, cracked corn, peanut hearts, flax, sorghum and rape seed.

A house finch eating sunflower seed
Sunflower tops the list of preferred bird food because it is nutritious and rich in oils, badly needed by winter birds to generate the energy that keeps them warm. Some types of millets and flax are regarded as fillers and the Cornell lab doesn’t recommend them.

Woodpecker feasting on peanuts
The visitors to your bird feeder are wild animals that can survive on their own without your handouts. They are resourceful and can find wild foods through the winter; in fact many of them simply have no access to birdfeeders. They eat wild seeds similar to the ones you provide and berries of many sorts. If you are a birdwatcher you know that a good way to spot finches and other small birds in winter is to look at shrubs, preferably the ones laden with berries.

Let us examine these foods from a different angle. It is said that thirty percent of all the food that humans eat comes to them courtesy of pollinators primarily bees, what about bird food?

Long-horned bee pollinating a sunflower
Millet, corn and sorghum are cereals; the plants that produce them are wind pollinated. All the other bird seeds are from flowering plants that require the services of pollinators to produce seed. We are familiar with the flashy sunflowers and may have seen bees visiting them. Safflower is a type of thistle, also a blooming plant. Peanuts are members of the pea family with complicated flowers that require skilled pollinators to trip them and get to the pollen; these plants sometimes dispense with pollinators and simply fertilize themselves, but they produce more seed when pollinators are present. Rape is mustard, also dependent on pollinators. Finally, berries are dependent on pollinators.
So this is the true story of the birds and the bees.

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