I discovered how much wild birds love corn feed quite by accident. This past summer I expanded a pen to enclose my chickens because I was losing so many to coyotes. This resulted in my feeding them where they are more easily observed through my back windows, along with the realization that my wild bird population is much greater than I thought. At least they've moved closer to MY world, and that's a good thing. It turns out that even with all of their â€˜natural' foods available due to a nice wet spring and not-too-hot summer, they still flocked to the corn!
Once the chickens are done with their first feeding frenzy of the morning, the wild birds move in, no matter what time of year. In addition to the normal resident birds like wrens, finches and cardinals, I've got an ever-growing population of doves (we don't hunt them). I'm sure the birds were eating corn before; I just hadn't noticed it because they weren't being fed in an area close to the house.
This discovery led me to do a little bit of research. I've now got my bird feeders filled with black oil sunflower seed, but I still have birds voraciously feasting on the corn on the ground. At first I thought my feeders were being ignored in favor of the corn, but then I realized that different birds were eating the corn off the ground, while others were taking advantage of the sunflower seeds.
There are ground-feeding birds and those that are not, though when push comes to shove, if they're hungry, they will eat where they can find it. At the feeders (I've got a couple of tube-type feeders with perches and a tray-type barn feeder) I've observed nuthatches, titmice, goldfinches, wrens, chickadees and sparrows. The titmice and sparrows also frequent the ground under the feeders. On occasion I even see a flicker hanging on the tube feeders. Call me a bird geek, but I always love it when I have an occasional unexpected guest.
Meanwhile, in the chicken yardI have at least a dozen mourning doves, a bunch of cardinals and some blue jays, along with some of the smaller songbirds eating off the ground. Some of my property is fairly wooded, while the rest is in pasture, and I've now noticed that a bevy of doves will fly up from behind my well-house when I walk outside, which I'm sure means they are sheltering there. I'm SO looking forward to nesting doves in the spring! I'm crediting the corn with their arrival and prolonged habitation; they must have spread the word.
Corn feed can be fed whole or cracked (sometimes called chopped), though you will attract a greater variety with cracked corn feed, as opposed to feeding whole shelled corn. Nutritionally, corn is lower in protein than some other foods you can offer, but it's high in carbs, important for a bird's fast metabolism and to keep energy stores up. Everything I've read leads me to believe a combination of corn and black oil sunflower seed will provide life-giving, nutritional sustenance for any bird who may visit.
Black oil sunflower seed is 28% fat, 25% fiber, and 15% protein, and it has calcium, B vitamins, Vitamin E and Iron. What makes it so attractive to a wider variety of birds is that it has a softer shell than other types of sunflower seeds; therefore it is easier to access the meaty seed. And though some experts would disagree, corn feed is also quite nutritional. Corn has about 4% fat, 2% crude fiber and 8.5% protein, along with the high carbohydrates that the sunflower seed is lacking. Put out bird feeders designed for the type of food you will be offering, as well as making some available to those ground-feeding species.
And where there is food, there must be water. Water is critical for the birds' survival. If you do not have an un-frozen water source close by, you need to provide it for them. In the winter months a heated bird bath will do the best job. They are economical to operate, easy to keep clean and will be much appreciated by both the migrating and local bird residents.
Additionally, if squirrels are a problemif you'd like to keep the squirrels happy and away from your bird feedersget an ear corn squirrel feeder. Most squirrels enjoy the play time that comes along with these feeders and will leave the harder-to-access bird feeders alone if they have an alternative, while their antics can be just as entertaining as the birds'.
I am not a winter person by any stretch of the imagination. I tend to want to hibernate. But watching the birds at the feeders makes me more aware of the difficult life a bird has, especially in the winter. It feels good to feed the birds and they make me smile.