Feeding the Minnesota Birdies in Winter

Who are we attracting to the bird feeder?

The following birds are the most common grazers at the seed buffet in Minnesota.


A variety of bird food

Black-oil sunflower seed. This seed will attract almost any bird. Birds that can’t crack the seeds themselves will scour the ground under the feeders, picking up bits and pieces. This seed became available in North America in the early 1980s. Birds prefer the outer shell of a black-oil sunflower seed because it is thinner and easier to crack. The kernel inside the shell is larger than the kernel inside a white-or gray-striped sunflower seed, so birds get more food per seed.

Peanuts. Peanuts are a fairly recent trend in bird feeding, at least in North America. Peanut manufacturers and processors have now identified the bird-feeding market as a good place to get rid of the peanuts that are broken or otherwise unfit for human consumption. Woodpeckers, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice will readily visit a feeder for this high-protein, high-energy food. Even cardinals and finches will eat peanuts.

Suet. Suet contains a lot of fat so it serves as an excellent source of energy. Suet cakes are blocks made from suet or a thick substitute mixed with other ingredients, such as corn meal, peanuts, fruits, or even dried insects. Suet is particularly attractive to woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, jays, and starlings. Wrens, creepers, kinglets, and even cardinals and warblers occasionally visit suet feeders.

Good, mixed seed. Bad mixed seed has a lot of filler in it—junk seeds that most birds won’t eat. Bad mixed seed can include dyed seed meant for pet birds, wheat, and some forms of red milo that only birds in the Desert Southwest seem to eat. Good mixed seed contains sunflower seed, cracked corn, white millet, and perhaps some peanuts. You can also buy the ingredients separately and create your own specialty mix.

Nyjer seed. Nyjer, or thistle, seed is easily consumed by all the small finches—goldfinches, house, purple, and Cassin’s finches, pine siskins, and redpolls. The two most commonly used types of thistle feeders are a tube feeder with small thistle-seed-sized holes, and a thistle sock. A thistle sock is a fine-mesh, synthetic bag that is filled with thistle seed. Small finches are able to cling to this bag and pull seeds out through the bag’s mesh.
Safflower. This white, thin-shelled seed is eaten by many birds and has the reputation for being the favorite food of the northern cardinal.

Cracked corn. Sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves, quail, and squirrels are just a few of the creatures you can expect at your feeders if you feed cracked corn. Fed in moderation, cracked corn will attract almost any feeder species. Whole corn that is still on the cob is not a good bird food because the kernels are too big and hard for most small birds to digest. Cracked corn is broken up into smaller, more manageable bits.

Mealworms. Most feeder birds, except goldfinches, will eat mealworms if you offer them. Mealworms are available in bait stores, or by mail order. Mealworms aren’t even worms; they are the larval stage of a beetle.

Fruit. Fruit is an important dietary element for birds, but it can be hard to find in many areas in midwinter. Set out grapes, slices of citrus fruits, apple or banana slices, and even melon rinds. If you want to feed raisins, chop them up and soak them in warm water first to soften them up a bit. Offering fruit to tanagers and orioles is a traditional spring and summer feeding strategy, but many winter feeder birds will eat fruit, too.

Saving a furry friend

6a00d8341f7e1253ef017c371b03b4970b-800wiWhen I came back to work today, I passed through the Elliot Park clinic building. I noticed that the security guard had a pet carrier. As I got closer, I realized there was a beautiful black and white cat inside who barely fit. There was also a yellow plastic bag with a bag of cat food and a dish. On the side pocket of his carrier there was an orange slip with “Fluffy’s” known credentials. The security guard was about to call animal control until I said “No! They’ll kill him! Please call the Animal Humane Society.” She called, but they don’t pick up animals. In my shocked state I heard myself say “I’ll take him!” Fluffy had been abandoned in one of the clinic hallways. It was pretty clear to me that this person couldn’t take care of him. I took him to the AHS, petted him as much as I could, gave a donation and left all teary-eyed. I’m sure he’ll be adopted soon. He’s very cute!

Francine’s lost “babies”

Francine just has a way of entertaining herself. She now has five multi-colored, catnip-filled mice that look a lot like her. So, we call it her "baby". We went out of town for a week and came back to discover that none of her “babies” were in sight. So, like before, I put a flashlight underneath the couch, the shelves, and even the bed. We still haven’t solved the mystery. We’ll probably buy another litter of the catnip-stuffed mice, they’ll go missing again, and some day we will find a mountain of dust-bunnied mice in some obscure place.

Feline Mackerels


It’s been about five months since we said goodbye to Pooper, our beautiful black cat with the white tuxedo. I think of her a lot, especially when I run around Lake Calhoun, where we sprinkled her ashes and laid five large rocks to mark her spot. Ernesto and I had been thinking about adopting a new kitty. I’d email him at work with web page links to possible “new friends” on the Animal Humane Society website. We ended up adopting two Mackerel-type tabby cats named Amber, one year old, and two year old Francine. Amber immediately caught my attention, beckoning me into the room full of cats. We spent some time with her in the “visitation” room and just had to have her. Francine was a little less frisky and was in her own cage. She was very shy at first, but eventually warmed up to us. It didn’t take long for the former Amber, now “Frida”, to meet up with Francine (we kept the name Francine cuz, well, she looks like a Francine). Even now, after only a few days, they cuddle and lick each others’ heads!

Asphalt Territory

ducksI was heading back home from Morrie’s Imports in the claustrophobic Pontiac loaner car, after leaving the Saab, once again, for another repair job. I signaled my turnoff toward the Dunwoody-Hennepin exit when I spotted the mother mallard duck and her ten ducklings. They were just going about their business, making their way across the busy highway. She was swiftly leading them past the idling car in the next lane toward the next speeding lane of cars and the median, to get to the other side of the highway. I looked around and saw that everyone had their hands in the air, wondering what she was going to do once she realized that the little ones wouldn’t be able to hoist themselves up over the concrete median to the other two speeding lanes. To my horror, I visualized squashed little ducklings all over the buzzing road. I exited the highway, realizing that their fate was out of my control. Later, at the end of the workday, I picked up the car, now purring like a kitten. I conned myself into thinking that this was the end of all of the major repairs. As I approached the turnoff toward the Dunwoody-Hennepin exit, I slowed down to see if there was any evidence of duck carnage. I was pleased to see clean, black asphalt, knowing that someone cared enough to send the mother duck and her ducklings to safety.

Remembering Pooper

pooper_6Up until the last day, Pooper was trying to go about her usual routine. She still made her way to and from the kitchen, jumped up on the launching pad toward her sheepskin on the bed, and greeted us at the door. In a matter of a few hours, though, she took a turn for the worse. She walked toward the kitchen and I giddily assumed that she was hungry. She stumbled toward me and, as I slowly lifted her up, I noticed a pool of clear urine filling a circle on the floor. I brought her to the bathroom and she immediately crawled under the tub. I peered in and saw her glowing, green eyes, and tried to coerce her to drink some tuna water. She took a few sips and shrunk back to her position against the wall. I managed to pull her out and set up her bed in the bathroom, petting her until Ernesto came home.

We gave her the usual 100cc subcutaneous fluids as she laid even more slumped over Ernesto’s knee. Maybe she would miraculously snap out of it? Could it be dehydration and we just needed to give her fluids twice per day? Could she be constipated and that’s why she was walking funny? We fed her again and she ravenously ate nearly the whole serving; a small chance of recovering? I had planned to meet my dad at 5:30 and the door alarm sounded. Earlier in the day, I had had a premonition that something was happening with Pooper, since the last time my dad was over, we took Pooper to the vet. All blotchy-faced and teary-eyed, I decided not to cancel and thought it would be good to get out for a few hours. When I returned, Pooper was in her bed, now twitching and struggling to move around. Not too much time had passed when Ernesto picked her up and tested the strength in her legs. It was as if she were paralyzed, unable to bear the weight of her own body. At that point, we knew it was inevitable that she wasn’t going to get better. We decided to bring her to the emergency vet to “let her go”. I will always remember the many years we had together, nearly half of my life and all of hers. She was almost 22!

Borrowed Time for Pooper

pooper_4I think we saved Pooper’s life last week by bringing her to the emergency vet. She was feather light and as limp as a rag doll. She was diagnosed with late stage kidney disease, spent the entire weekend receiving IV fluids, meds, and good care. Now I understand the emotional rollercoaster of caring for a chronically ill feline. I’m so glad we decided to get treatment instead of letting her go. She’s almost back to her old self again. It’s not so easy for her to have the subcutaneous fluids every day, but she most likely feels better. I found a really great website that specifically addresses feline kidney failure. Aside from the comic sans font, it has very good information. There really is life after “crashing“.

Peruvian flavor in Minnesota

alpacaphotoMy mom kept saying that I had to see these incredible animals, the alpacas. She had, of course, an ulterior motive to purchase an alpaca cape, since this would be her second visit. So, as soon as I realized the photo opportunities, I agreed to go with her and my brother to visit the llamas, or rather alpacas, in Prior Lake. I never thought I would see these animals outside of, say, the Shrine circus or some traveling band of gitanos. The Pure Country alpacas live on the hill, nestled behind a cozy wooden, suburban home. These peaceful animals didn’t seem to make a peep. They came in white, brown, gray, and black, with tousled hair tufts on their heads, long graceful necks, standing on their long legs and high-heeled hooves. Seeing these mystical creatures was very surreal, as if they suddenly appeared under the bright sun.