If you enjoy feeding our feathered friends, you’re not alone.

According to national surveys, about one-third of Americans older than the age of 16 engage in bird-feeding activities for at least part of the year. If you want to put that in numerical terms, that’s about 55 million people.

In addition to providing nutrition for birds, the about 1 billion pounds of bird feed that’s purchased annually provides a healthy boost to the economy. Americans spend more than $3 billion on bird feed and an additional $800 million on bird feeders each year.

But people don’t feed birds to stimulate the economy; we feed birds because we like seeing birds. In this state, it’s further proof of what residents have known for a long time — Missourians care about conserving forests, fish and wildlife.

Now that we’ve had our first good cold snap, more people are very likely thinking about putting up bird feeders. Bird feeding is a year-round activity for some people, but interest in bird feeding picks up in winter. Keep in mind that, from a necessity standpoint, the late winter and early spring transitional period is probably the most important time to feed birds because that is when naturally occurring seeds are scarce and warm-weather food sources have not begun to appear yet.

However, that’s not to say that you should wait until then to start feeding birds. On the contrary, feeding birds now (or any time) is a great way to learn about different species, and it can serve as a good introductory activity about ways to identify wildlife. It’s an activity your entire family can get involved in.

If you’re new to bird feeding, it might pay to do a little research before you start filling your feeders. Different species of birds prefer different types of food. Some species prefer one type of feeder more than another. Other birds prefer no feeder at all because they do most of their feeding on the ground.

A tube-type feeder filled with black-oil sunflower seed is a combination that will attract a number of bird species. Adding a couple other feeding options (a suet feeder or scattered seed on the ground, for example) can further increase the bird variety in your backyard. The Missouri Department of Conservation has literature about the types of bird feed preferred by various species. This information is also available at most bird-feeding stores.

Place feeders at locations where they’re easy to refill and easy to watch from inside your house. If possible, feeders on the south side of the house would provide most comfort for birds in winter. Keeping squirrels out of your feeders will be a challenge, but if that’s your goal, try to make your feeder location as inaccessible to squirrels as possible.

During prolonged periods of ice and snow cover, provide some type of grit (coarse sand or ground shells) along with the seed. Grit (which is kept in a bird’s gizzard) is used to grind up seeds. Also be sure to furnish water, which should be an essential component of your bird-feeding station throughout the year.

A bird book is also a helpful element of a bird-feeding setup. In addition to providing information about common species, it will also help you identify the uncommon species that show up at your feeder.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has literature about birds, bird feeding and attracting birds to your backyard at most offices. Bird information can also be found at missouriconservation.org.

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation's Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call (417) 895-6880.

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