January 6, 2013

Winter bird feeding – the seed formerly known as thistle

Thistle Sock FeederC. & S. Prod. 950 Thistle SockWinter bird feeding is a wonderful way to bring some life back to a bleak mid-winter back yard. When people think about bird feeders they usually picture a cylindrical or house type feeder designed for mixed seed of millet, sunflower, and cracked wheat but there are some alternatives. In winter especially, when the softies have left for Florida and Central America, many of the hardy birds are attracted to suet and thistle. Suet (rendered beef fat) is a delicacy to woodpeckers, wrens, and nuthatch while thistle seeds is relished by winter finches like the American goldfinch, House and Purple finch, Pine siskin, and if you’re lucky Common redpoll or Evening grosbeak. The fine, slippery, dark grains often called thistle seeds are actually an Ethiopian seed called Nyjer. Nyjer seed is oily and rich in protein but its demure size makes a standard feeder or ground feeding impossible. The solution is easy. The thistle “sock” is a nylon mesh tube that can be filled with seed, allowing finches to pull out individual seeds as they would naturally from a grain of grass or flower. Thistle sock feeders can be purchased in any hardware, tack, or bird store.  While hanging a thistle sock may not prove to be an instant buffet, over time and in these harsh winter conditions, goldfinches will begin to appear in small flocks, clinging to all sides of the feeder to feast on the thin seeds. Bare broken branches or fallen bows of pine and fir, even a passé Christmas tree can be propped up in an empty planter next to a feeder giving the birds a place to hide, rest, and shell seeds. It is recommended that feeders be hung a minimum of 10 feet away from all windows.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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