According to a recently released survey, conducted in 1985 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, some 82 million Americans are involved in bird watching and feeding.
No matter whether the survey delineated between people who set up complex feeding stations and those who toss stale bread out the door, the statistic shows the increasing popularity of this pastime.A few suggestions to assure that you will have a healthy cross-section of visitors at your feeders this winter:
First, check the condition of feeders. Perches chewed by squirrels or tube feeder openings enlarged by the pesky creatures must be repaired.
Hanging feeders might need new wires, and you might want to set in a post to shift a feeder or two closer to the kitchen window.
Soiled feeders should be scrubbed with soapy water and rinsed. A new coat of stain, paint or wood preservative may also be needed.
A new feeder might add another dimension to the backyard set-up. More garden, hardware and department stores are stocking feeders - ranging from simple plastic devices to more expensive aluminum-bolstered, cedar or squirrel-proof models.
The second order of business is getting in a supply of seeds.
Avoid waste by buying seeds from a hardware, lumber or garden store that sells mix-your-own by the pound.
Staples in the diets of most birds that are attracted in winter include sunflower seeds, niger (thistle) seed, millet, suet and cracked corn - probably in that order.
More than one type of food should be offered, even though, given a choice of one seed, sunflower would come out on top.
Seeds provide birds with carbohydrates that supplement their natural foods to provide quick energy. They're also sources of some proteins and vitamins, although suet and nuts probably supply more.
Titmice, house and goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, grosbeaks and other varieties like sunflower seeds.
The oil-type sunflower seed is a superior food - better than the striped variety found in most packaged mixes. These seeds have a thin shell that is easier for the birds to crack, and they contain a large amount of vegetable oil, which supplies fat for cold-weather benefits and proteins.
If money isn't an object, hulled sunflower seeds are an even better choice. But be aware that the birds will spend less time cracking the hulls and more time feasting with such a menu item. Your per-pound purchases will be more costly, but you'll be getting pure bird food.
Millet should be another staple on the bird feeding shelf. Easily identifiable, millet seeds are small and oval, ranging in color from white to yellow to red.
It's a nutritious seed that studies show contains about 10 percent protein, 4 percent fat and needed starches that birds turn into glucose to bolster their energy needs.
Doves, sparrows and juncos benefit from millet as do other birds, such as cardinals and house finches, who like occasional side dishes of white or red proso millet.
Don't confuse millet with milo. Milo, also called sorghum, will be eaten by doves, starlings, cowbirds and sparrows, but much of it goes to waste at feeding stations. While not popular with birds, it is a filler in commercial mixes. Check the labels to find how much of the total mix is composed of milo.
Cracked corn is another favorite. Doves, blue jays, white-throated sparrows and others - including squirrels - like it. Use it conservatively, however.
Niger seed, also called thistle seed, is a specialty food that keeps house, purple and goldfinches coming back for more.
It's expensive and scattering it on the ground or atop a feeding shelf isn't recommended. Instead, buy a plastic tube dispenser specially designed with small openings for the tiny black seeds.
Suet is also a standard feeder item, and nuthatches, titmice, blue jays and woodpeckers will make daily visits to eat the fatty substance.
Suet is sold at the meat counter of grocery stores, but a better bet is to visit a butcher and buy the "soapy" suet that comes from the kidney and heart areas of beef cattle.
Some people melt suet and combine it with seeds, nuts, peanut butter or cornmeal. Once it's rendered and rehardened it can be fed in cat food tins or other containers or bags that hold it off the ground. Roaming dogs, and some wild mammals, will be attracted if it's placed too close to the ground.