Gardening

Yeah, it snowed, but it's too early for bird feeders in Southcentral Alaska

The most frequent question I am getting these days involves bird feeders. Specifically, is it safe to put them out yet? In fact, it is just a bit too early to put food into yours. The rule in Southcentral Alaska (adjust if you live elsewhere) is to wait until Nov. 1. I am not sure if our unusually warm weather changes this, but let's stick to this unless someone from the state contacts me and tells me there is a better time this year.

That said, it is not too early to get things ready. Somewhere between 25 and 100 different bird species overwinter here in Alaska, so the effort is always well worth it. All you need is a simple feeder of some sort and seed. It is not hard. You don't have to be a confirmed birder — or even be able to identify the birds you will surely attract.

The seed part is easy. There are two basic types for sale at nurseries, supermarkets and box stores. The first is all sunflower. The second kind is everything else. My strong suggestion is to go with sunflower, hulled or not, even though it is normally more expensive that the other feed. With these, there will be no problem attracting birds. They love sunflower seeds, specifically the oils in them. The other bird foods are designed for specific birds, such as thistle, or full of common millet which most birds look at as starvation food, good only when there is absolutely nothing else to eat. Trust me. Sunflower seed is the way to go, at least for starters.

The simple feeder part is just as easy. You can put out a pie plate with sunflower seed and the birds will eat them up or even toss the seed on the ground, for that matter. However, it is probably better to buy a basic feeder which you can do wherever you find seed. Get one that holds as much seed as possible so you won't have to constantly fill it. (See how optimistic I am about attracting birds). Later you can get feeders for suet and peanut butter and thistle.

Consider some extras. You will need a bird book to identify what you see. There are all manner of books specifically on Alaska birds as well as phone apps, so Google away and find what suits your tastes. The Sibley Guides are considered the experts' bible, but an Alaska birding book is best for newbies.

Next, get something to keep the squirrels at bay — either a barrier, or one of those things that causes the feeder to spin around and knock the squirrel off if you are so inclined. Yes, I know you can also coexist and even feed the squirrels on your property — if you are inclined to attract rodents that will get into your house and chew wires, burrow through the insulation to pipes and other horrors. Please, no letters.

The other big extra — but as far as I am concerned a must — is a motion-activated camera like the kind made by Wingscapes Cameras (there are others as well). You are not home most of the day, but the birds are. Why not see what you are missing or can expect on the weekend?

Finally, some folks put out water, using a special heater to keep it from freezing. Your feathered friends will love it if you go this route. I suspect you could put these out now; I doubt a bird bath will attract bruins.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Driveways and walks: Mark your driveway and walks now so you know where they are in the winter snow.

Lights: Have your indoor setup going yet? The earlier you get to this chore, the more your houseplants will thank you.

Seeds: If you are so inclined, collect seeds from perennials as well as from those open pollinated tomatoes that may still be on the vine, frozen or otherwise.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2020 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He's authored several books on organic gardening; his latest is "DIY Autoflowering Cannabis: A New Way To Grow." Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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