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  • Writer's pictureJohn Sterling Poole

Tray Feeding and Chipping Sparrows

All of us at Wild Birds Unlimited Mt. Pleasant are getting excited for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). In order to prepare, we are making sure everyone’s feeder is up to date and that everyone has what will draw in all of the birds. One of the difficulties that I personally have during the GBBC is that I sometimes miss all of the birds on my feeders. I will try to identify one bird and by the time I have logged that one, another has landed on my feeder and left. To increase your count in the GBBC, you need foods that will keep the birds around, and you have to have feeders that offer plenty of space for birds of all types. One of the best feeder designs you can have that has plenty of space for birds and gives you plenty of viewing is a tray feeder.

Tray feeders are an excellent and easy feeder. All you have to do is put food into the tray and the birds will figure it out! Most trays are made with thick, recycled plastic which means that they will last forever, and they are relatively easy to scrub any dirt or grime off of. The metal trays within the feeders can be removed for easy cleaning and can be easily replaced if needed. These open feeders allow birds of any size to perch for as long as they like, but to ensure you have the best variety of foods, we are going go through the best foods to include in a tray feeder.

Ground feeding birds love tray feeders because it simulates their natural feeding. Ground feeders usually like millet so always make sure you have millet in your trays. This small seed with draw in some pigeons and doves, but it will also draw in chipping sparrows and other sparrows. Other smaller birds (nuthatches, chickadees, etc.) sometimes eat millet, but this is rare. If you have a yard that has plenty of pigeons and doves, however, you should really get a larger tray so that the doves can eat on one end while the smaller birds can perch for as long as they want on the other end. One last note about millet, I would really get hulled millet instead of regular millet. It is best because regular millet will leave behind these small, paper-thin shells that can make a mess in and around the feeder. Also, hulled millet will not sprout underneath. Lastly, it makes it easier for the birds to eat them. Less effort on their end equals more time spent at your feeders!

One benefit to tray feeding is offering a space for several birds to perch at once!

After adding the millet, sunflower seeds (preferably shelled for the same reasons as getting hulled millet) are a must in any feeder. A good number of songbirds will eat sunflower seeds: cardinals, finches, jays, some woodpeckers, nuthatches, etc.! This will draw in the most birds. Most seed blends (all of our blends) include sunflower seeds because so many birds eat it. Along with sunflower seeds, I would add about two or three handfuls of safflower seeds. This will also draw in the cardinals. Several other birds will prefer the protein rich safflower seed over the sunflower chips. This white, hard-shelled food will be ignored by any grackles or blackbirds that you might have.

This tray feeder is a special for the month of January! Get the feeder and a small bag of millet for $20!

To draw in some larger birds and some nut eating birds, you should throw in a few handfuls of peanuts and/or chopped tree nuts. These foods are high in energy and fat so they are particularly popular in the winter time. I love my woodpeckers and watching them eat. Since tray feeders are so open, they allow me to watch their long and pointed beaks break apart the nuts at a rapid pace. It is also fun to watch my blue jays perch on the edge of the tray feeder to grab a peanut or two.

Along with the nuts, any mealworms or suet nuggets would be plenty protein, energy, and fat for all of your birds. All of those foods help keep your birds healthy and warm during the winter and prepare them for nesting season. Our BarkButter Bits work great in trays because just about all of the birds like them. Adding these would only add to the variety of foods available which would in turn encourage a larger variety of birds to visit.

Lastly, when talking about foods in tray feeders, some customers put fruit in them. I do not love putting fruit out because it can get sticky and fairly gross. But putting fruit out will draw in more and provide your birds with the proper sugars and fats. Some people sprinkle dried cranberries and cherries out in their trays (cardinals especially like this). Others put orange slices out for their orioles while some spread some grape jelly out for the orange winter guests. I personally would just put out a separate oriole feeder, but a tray feeder can draw them in too.

It should be noted that if you were to add everything that I just listed, it would be a big pile of seed and look fairly messy. Be aware of how much seed you put in your tray feeder. Filling it to the brim will only get your birds to throw it out onto the ground. Leave some spaces on your tray feeder for where the birds can stand on the actual mesh tray.

One of the biggest concerns with tray feeders that I hear from some customers is that it seems like an open plate for their squirrels, chipmunks, and rats. That is definitely a valid concern. If mammals are your concern, go with hot pepper foods in the tray to deter them. You can also use a baffle to prevent them from climbing up the pole. I would not let those pesky pests be the reason that you are not going with the tray feeder.

These feeders will bring in lots of birds, that much has been clarified. But one bird in particular is something we all want to see this time of the year. The chipping sparrow is here for winter and these small birds are a lot of fun to watch. They are ground feeders, so spreading millet across your yard can draws these guys in. Watching them jump from spot to spot across your yard is a lot of fun. They chirp in a playful way that is pretty recognizable, and they get along with most other birds in the yard. That is always nice because you never want bullies at any of your feeders. Sparrows also like to hide out in some brush and bushes nearby. So be sure to sprinkle some of the millet around a bush and place your tray feeder near those bushes as well to encourage activity.

Next post will be about the Great Backyard Bird and other opportunities which you could get involved with and you could help researchers better understand/monitor bird populations! Hopefully this post will help you prepare your yard for those opportunities and bump up the number of visitors in your yard!

WBU Specials for January!

  • Get a new tray feeder with a 3lbs. bag of millet for only $20 (save $12 on the bundle)!

  • We have a sale on our seasonal blend, No-Mess Plus. Save $10.00 off a bag ($12 if you are a DSC member!).

You can find all of our products by clicking here. If you have any questions about anything, please don't hesitate to call the store at 843-216-8800!

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