Question from reader: I am an avid reader of your nature column and an avid bird lover as well. I was wondering if you could tell me how to increase the species at my home bird feeders. I have several feeders in my back yard, two with standard millet/sunflower seed mix and a new one with finch mix. They are at this time about 6 feet apart on my patio. I attract thousands of house sparrows and different species of doves. I also get frequent visits from mockingbirds, cardinals, and blue jays. However, I never seem to attract any of the migratory thrushes and warblers described in your column. Could you give me any advice on how to get more diversity at my feeders?
Answer: It doesn't sound like your doing anything particularly wrong. Warblers and thrushes are insect eaters and only visit feeders in winter. The three warblers we routinely have in winter at our feeders are Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, and Pine. Hermit warblers spend the winter here and often hang around platform feeders. Warblers and thrushes are also attracted to suet cakes in almost any season. Come spring, you might want to put out orange slices to attract migratory orioles and resident woodpeckers.
Other suggestions: Use a "No-Mess Blend of Bird Seed" available at Wild Birds Unlimited Stores in Houston or online at http://www.shopwbu.com/products/. Also, get the "No Melt" variety of suet cakes from the same store. Both products should attract more varieties of birds to your yard, but there's no guarantee because many factors such as trees, bushes, and plantings are at play in attracting birds to a yard. I've seen "perfect" yards for birds, but the poor home owner gets few birds. We don't always no what's keeping birds away or what's attracting them. Obviously, if you have feral cats coming to your yard, that could be a deterrent. Still, backyard bird feeding is not a science. (By the way, I have no financial interest or reward in recommending Wild Birds Unlimited; I simply like their products and customer service.)
Hope this helps, and thanks for being an avid reader of the column.