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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Bird feeders safe to hang this winter after salmonella epidemic in 2020

By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

Last winter, the wild songbird population that entertained us at bird feeders went through a salmonella epidemic. We were all asked to take down our bird feeders to disperse the birds and lessen the chance for infections they could catch around crowded feeders. Sound familiar?

The good news is that epidemic seems to have died down for now. So, with caution and attention paid to washing hands after handling bird feeders, it is probably safe to rehang the feeders and enjoy the winter show.

Winter bird-watching is something that can be enjoyed either indoors or outdoors, and it doesn’t take expensive equipment to get started. Just a good pair of binoculars and a good bird book or device app and you are in business. There are even apps to help identify bird calls. Given all the encouragement to continue taking activities outside, this may be a great family activity. It would also be a great Christmas gift.

One great way to get involved with winter bird-watching is to sign up for the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Project FeederWatch. The Cornell Lab is part of Cornell University and is widely respected for providing research-based information on birds in the U.S. It partners with Birds Canada to track the health and vitality of North America’s bird populations.

Project FeederWatch is an annual program that runs from early winter through the end of April. People with feeders identify species of birds that are visiting their feeders and then record each species they see in an online database. In this way, the project sponsors can track changes in bird populations over time which is important as our climate shifts. The project also asks participants to record other data like snow and weather conditions and observe bird behavior. This is truly a citizen scientist project.

A Project FeederWatch membership for $18 per year gives you access to many resources on its website, such as bird identification posters and photos, an online blog, tips on feeding birds and identifying the difference between similar looking birds and a place to upload photos. There is even a photo contest one of your photos might win. Check out the website at feederwatch.org.

To hang feeders

Here are some tips for hanging a feeder.

Pick a spot outside a window where you can observe the birds easily but not so close that your activities scare them off.

A feeder should be hung 5 feet or 6 feet high and close to large shrubs so the birds can escape quickly if a predator shows up. Predators can be hawks, owls or neighborhood cats.

Feeders come in all shapes and sizes but in general must keep seed dry in all kinds of weather. Some birds prefer eating from tube-shaped feeders, while others like to dine on flat feeders or even on the ground. The most popular seed for feeders in the Inland Northwest is black oil sunflower which is available in many local garden centers and feed stores. Mixes high in millet and milo just get thrown out of the feeder.

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Correspondent Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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