Dallas, Texas

Feeding Birds
by Jim Peterson

While bird feeding originally began centuries ago in order to facilitate the breeding of birds, it began as a recreational pursuit in early 20th-century England. Strangely, there has been very little research on the subject of bird feeding and its impact. What is known are small snippets of information that may not have fully passed the test of time. The following information is still being processed as more information is uncovered and added to the general understanding of human interaction on birdlife.

Feeder Dependency: According to most research, the feeding of birds does not create any kind of food dependency for the species currently studied. According to research, migratory birds that traditionally visited feeders migrated at the appropriate times regardless of feeder access. In addition, it was determined that birds quickly adapt to natural food sources when bird feeding stations disappear or are shut down.

Population Changes: In the few studies known, bird survival rates did not change dramatically when there was significantly more feeder access in a given area. In a specific study, Black-capped Chickadees in the far north showed a slightly higher survival rate when feeders were available, but other species were unaffected. Most population studies show no correlation between bird population trends and the number of feeders available in a given area.

There is also some research showing that bird feeding does not expose more birds to significant predation or window collision. Homeowners should take corrective measures in regards to window strikes, but the overall number of strikes in a particular area is usually quite small . In regards to hawks, most research suggests that bird-eating hawks use feeders opportunistically, not as a primary food source.

Overall, it is believed that the feeding of birds has not been a major factor in altering bird populations, but more research is needed.

A list of common feeder birds in North-central Texas

The following list is based on collective data from Cornell’s Project Feeder Watch.  Data was collected from all over the United States,and published in the book Birds at Your Feeder by Dunn and Tessaglia-Hymes (1999). This data does not always reflect local food habits in North-central Texas but does act as a general barometer regarding the diet of feeder birds. I have tailored the species list to reflect only those species found regularly in North-central Texas.

Regarding Species
Some of the birds mentioned here are not particularly common feeder birds (Harris’s Sparrow) or may include birds found around feeders but only very infrequently visiting the feeders for food (Ruby-crowned Kinglet,). Feeder frequency among species may be determined by several local factors regarding habitat and food. This list only reflects generalities gained from feeder watching throughout the United States and Canada.

Had this list included water as a supplement, the size of the bird list would have  grown significantly. Nearly all songbirds are attracted to water. It is highly recommended that feeder stations include water if possible. Furthermore, this list does not include some of the more colorful neotropical migrants such as Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Painted Bunting, or any of the orioles - all of which  may come to a feeder. Feeding through late spring and summer will frequently reward people with bird species not commonly seen in winter.

Generally the list here includes only the birds regularly found in winter in North-central Texas that will at least occasionally visit feeder stations. It does not include irregular winter rarities like Common-ground Dove, Inca Dove, Common Redpoll, Lesser Goldfinch, or Evening Grosbeak. This list also does not include hummingbirds which come to feeders regularly but usually just for sugar water.

Non-native birds have been eliminated from this list and are not included here. Typical feeder birds not included are Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, European Starling, Monk Parakeet, House Sparrow, and any escaped caged birds.

Regarding Taxonomy
Since the Dunn & Tessaglia-Hymes book was published, White-winged Doves have exploded as feeder birds. They were not originally listed in Cornell’s feeder watch data at all. I have included this species here because it is now a frequent visitor to feeders. It would be safe to say that this species consumes the same diet as Mourning Doves, but this is plainly my own addition and is not part of any research.

I have also included the Black-crested Titmouse in this list. The Black-crested Titmouse was lumped as part of the Tufted Titmouse complex in the 20th Century but was split by the A.O.U after research determined it was a separate species. Both species occur in North-central Texas, but the Black-crested Titmouse generally occurs only in the far western part of the study area. It is safe to presume the Black-crested Titmouse eats the same diet as the Tufted Titmouse. Again, this is my personal addition and is based on no research within the book.

Regarding Food
Mealworms can be easily purchased as a food item for bird feeding from places like Wild Birds Unlimited. Mealworms were not included in this study, but they should be considered an attractive source of protein for many birds, especially during  late winter and early spring when birds need to gain strength for breeding. Occasionally, adult birds may choose to feed their chicks mealworms in late spring for the same reason. Also, since many of the birds listed here enjoy various peanut butter mixes, it should be pointed out that Wild Birds Unlimited sells many types of nut butter pastes and peanut butter suets that have been proven to work as well as peanut butter mixes.


Mourning Dove
Generally: mixed seed,  cracked corn, millet,  black-oil and striped sunflower
Infrequently: safflower, whole corn, nyjer, peanuts, oats, wheat

White-winged Dove
Generally: mixed seed,  cracked corn, millet,  black-oil and striped sunflower
Infrequently: safflower, whole corn, nyjer, peanuts, oats, wheat

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Generally: suet, peanut butter mixes, striped sunflower
Infrequently: black-oil sunflower, safflower, whole and cracked corn, milo, peanuts, fruit

Downy Woodpecker
Generally: suet, peanut butter mixes
Infrequently: sunflower, safflower, whole and cracked corn, milo, peanuts, fruit

Northern Flicker
Generally: suet
Infrequently: sunflower, safflower, whole and cracked corn, milo, peanuts, nyjer, fruit

Blue Jay
Generally: striped sunflower, peanuts in the shell, mixed seed, black-oil sunflower, cracked or whole corn, hulled peanuts
Infrequently: Millet, hulled sunflower, safflower, milo, peanut hearts, suet, peanut butter mixes, fresh or dried fruit

Carolina Chickadee
Generally: sunflower, safflower, hulled peanuts, suet, peanut butter mixes
Infrequently: mixed seed, millet, cracked corn, milo, nyjer, peanuts in shell

Tufted Titmouse
Generally: sunflower, safflower, hulled peanuts, peanut butter mixes
Infrequently: mixed seed, millet, cracked corn, milo, nyjer, suet, peanuts in shell

Black-crested Titmouse
Generally: sunflower, safflower, hulled peanuts, peanut butter mixes
Infrequently: mixed seed, millet, cracked corn, milo, nyjer, suet, peanuts in shell

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Generally: suet, sunflower, hulled peanuts, peanut butter mixes
Infrequently: mixed seed, safflower, corn (any type) ,peanuts

White-breasted Nuthatch
Generally: suet, sunflower, hulled peanuts, peanut butter mixes
Infrequently: mixed seed, safflower, corn (any type)  peanuts in a shell

Carolina Wren
Generally: hulled peanuts and peanut butter mixes
Infrequently: mixed seed, millet, sunflower, safflower, cracked corn, milo, peanuts in a shell

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Generally: suet
Infrequently: black-oil sunflower

American Robin
Generally: fruit
Infrequently: mixed seed, millet, sunflower, safflower, cracked corn, milo, hulled peanuts, peanut butter mixes

Northern Mockingbird
Generally: peanut butter mixes, fresh and dried fruit
Infrequently: mixed seed, sunflower (all types), hulled peanuts

Brown Thrasher
Generally: mixed seed, millet
Infrequently: black-oil sunflower, cracked corn, milo, peanut butter mixes

Orange-crowned Warbler
Generally: suet

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Generally: suet, peanut hearts, peanut butter mixes
Infrequently: black-oil sunflower

Pine Warbler
Generally: suet, peanut butter mixes
Infrequently: mixed seed, cracked corn, black-oil sunflower

Eastern and Spotted Towhee
Generally: mixed seed, millet
Infrequently: sunflower (any type), cracked corn, suet, peanut butter mixes

Chipping Sparrow
Generally: mixed seed, millet, sunflower chips
Infrequently: black-oil and striped sunflower, cracked corn, nyjer, suet

Field Sparrow
Generally: mixed seed, cracked corn, millet
Infrequently: striped and black-oil sunflower, milo

Fox Sparrow
Generally: mixed seed, millet, cracked corn, milo
Infrequently: sunflower (all types), nyjer, suet

Song Sparrow
Generally: mixed seed, millet
Infrequently: sunflower (all types), safflower, corn (all types), milo, nyjer, hulled peanuts, peanut butter mixes

White-throated Sparrow
Generally: mixed seed, millet
Infrequently: sunflower (all types), safflower, corn (all types), nyjer, peanuts, peanut butter mixes

Harris’s Sparrow
Generally: mixed seed, striped sunflower
Infrequently: black-oil sunflower, millet, cracked corn

White-crowned Sparrow
Generally: mixed seed, millet, cracked corn, milo
Infrequently: sunflower (all types), safflower, nyjer, suet, peanut butter mixes

Dark-eyed Junco
Generally: mixed seed, millet, hulled sunflower, cracked corn
Infrequently: sunflower (all types), safflower, whole corn, milo, nyjer, hulled peanuts

Northern Cardinal
Generally: sunflower (all types), sunflower chips, mixed seed, safflower
Infrequently: millet, corn (all types), milo, peanuts (any form), peanut butter mixes

Red-winged Blackbird
Generally: mixed seed, millet, striped sunflower, cracked corn
Infrequently: black-oil sunflower, sunflower chips, safflower, whole corn, hulled peanuts, suet, fruit

Common Grackle
Generally: mixed seed, sunflower (any type), cracked corn
Infrequently: millet, safflower, whole corn milo, peanuts (any form), peanut butter mixes, fruit

Great-tailed Grackle
Generally: mixed seed, black-oil sunflower
Infrequently: striped sunflower, corn (all types), suet

Brown-headed Cowbird
Generally: mixed seed, millet, cracked corn
Infrequently: sunflower (any type), safflower, hulled peanuts, suet

Purple Finch
Generally: black-oil sunflower, striped sunflower, sunflower chips
Infrequently: mixed seed, millet, safflower, cracked corn, nyjer, peanut butter mixes

House Finch
Generally: black-oil sunflower, sunflower chips, striped sunflower, safflower, nyjer
Infrequently: millet, cracked corn, milo, hulled peanuts, peanut butter mixes

Pine Siskin
Generally: sunflower chips, nyjer, black-oil sunflower
Infrequently: mixed seed, millet, striped sunflower, safflower, cracked corn, milo, peanut hearts, suet, peanut butter mixes

American Goldfinch
Generally: nyjer, black-oil sunflower, sunflower chips
Infrequently: mixed seed, millet, striped sunflower, safflower, cracked corn, peanut butter mixes

Neotropical migrants that may visit a feeder for a short window of time during migration include:
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Painted Bunting, Indigo Bunting, migrating warblers, tanagers, and orioles


 

Resources - Birds at Your Feeder: A Guide to Feeding Habits, Behavior, Distribution. and Abundance by Erica H. Dunn & Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes, 1999.

Image Contributions:

American Goldfinch - Tarrant County, by Philip Schofner
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Kaufman County, by Vern Patterson