The Avant-Garden Shop: Your Garden & Bird Store

Birding Tips

Hummer FYI By: Droll Yankees

Besides nectar, Hummingbirds consume protein in the form of insects which they find inside flowers, on plants and in trees, in spider webs and in midair as they travel through your yard. Consider that when using pesticides in your yard and gardens. Hummers also drink water.

Hummers feed 5 – 8 times an hour.

Hummers have the greatest energy output, gram for gram, of any known warm-blooded animal. If your sugar water freezes, replace it immediately (even at dawn). They rely on established food supplies.

A Hummingbird’s wings can beat 200 times per second during courtship!

A Hummingbird’s tongue is roughly twice the length of its beak. It licks the nectar. (Approximately 13 licks per second!) You might see its beak and think that it can’t reach the nectar in the bottom of the feeder. Look closely with binoculars to see the tongue.

The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest hummingbird in the world at 2 inches long, weighing 1-15th of an ounce!

Under no circumstance should insecticides or other poisons be used at Hummingbird feeders.

Attracting Hummingbirds to your garden -Brenda Ibey

Choosing a Hummingbird Feeder: There are many varieties of hummingbird feeders available today. Most feeders are made of plastic or glass. If your birds seem to prefer one style feeder over another, it’s probably a simple matter of familiarity. If you change feeders, they may not feed immediately from the new one, but they will adapt; it may help to hang the old feeder, empty, next to the new one.

Any feeder can attract hummers, so perhaps the most important design feature to look for is ease of disassembly and cleaning. The basin-style feeders are much better than the inverted-bottle types. I recommend the Aspects HummZinger or the Droll Yankees Little Flyer for their durability as well as their ease of maintenance. Hummingbirds will come to any feeder that holds fresh syrup, so you might as well buy one that’s easy for you to keep up.

Location, Location, Location:Where to hang your feeder? A new one may be found sooner if hung over or near a garden of hummingbird plants. Hang a red scarf or flag until the hummer finds your feeder. You can hang them near windows, where you can watch and enjoy them.

Filling the Feeder:The sugar water we use to fill hummingbird feeders is only a supplement to the birds’ natural diet. Use only white sugar in hummingbird feeders at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool and fill your feeder. Store the excess syrup in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Please, do not put honey, Jell-O, brown sugar, fruit, or red food coloring in your feeder! Honey ferments rapidly when diluted with water and can kill hummingbirds. The effects of red dye have not been not scientifically tested, and it is not necessary to color the water to attract birds to your feeder.

Cleaning:Clean your feeder in hot water each time you refill and more thoroughly at least once a month.

Ants:Ensure your feeder has an ant moat to prevent problems with ants. Hummers will not drink from a feeder filled with dead ants.

Bees, Wasps, and Yellowjackets:These insects are attracted to the colour yellow. Look for feeders without yellow flowers. If they are a serious problem try moving your feeder or reducing the sugar ratio.

At The Avant-Garden Shop we have a wide variety of basin/saucer style feeders, with ant moats, nectar guards and BPA free plastic that won?t yellow or crack. They are leak proof and guaranteed for life! Drop by soon for a look and hopefully you?ll be able to enjoy these little gems!

Providing Water for your Birds

A water supply is a great way to attract birds to your yard along with a supply of food. Birds need water for drinking, bathing, and to dunk their food. Birdbaths come in many different styles and are constructed from several types of materials. They are made from concrete, ceramic, metal, plastic, and wood. You can purchase birdbaths that are pedestal type, hanging, or deck mounted. Other items such as garbage can lids and water trays off planters can be used for a birdbath. Birdbaths can be used to help accent your landscaping, as well as attract birds that do not visit your feeders such as the robin, thrush and warblers.

IMPORTANT FEATURES: Shallow, gently sloped sides, centre depth of 2 – 3 inches, small song birds prefer a depth of 1 – 1.5 inches, ledge to perch and nearby perches to preen. Use a small rock pile to help birds access the water if the edge of your birdbath is steep.

LOCATION: Near shrubbery or other shelter could be raised into branches of tree for shelter.

NOISE: The sound of water will attract birds, could be dripping, running or a light mist.

CLEANING: Hose clean regularly (daily in hot weather) and scrub occasionally.

WINTER NOTES: Remember birds like a water source during the winter as well, so clean and refill in below freezing temperatures. Heated bird baths are a great way to easily provide water throughout the year. New types can be deck mounted or pole mounted and come with automatic thermostats so the heaters only run when necessary. Note: ceramic may crack if water freezes

Water is an important requirement when attracting birds. Many birds eat insects and berries (rather than seed you provide) and will visit just to use a birdbath for bathing and for drinking. This is a year round requirement and care should be taken to keep the water clean (as well thawed in the winter). Visit to see a sample of what is available in the store as well as online.

Discouraging Large Birds
By: Brenda Ibey

Need help managing larger birds in your yard?

There are lots of tricks at your disposal to discourage larger birds from invading your feeders! Choosing the right feeder is the best place to start.

? Globe Feeders ? Baffles ? Diversion Feeders ? Weight sensitive Feeders

Who isn’t discouraged when…large birds descend on our bird feeders, frightening off our smaller birds? Yet blue jays, grackles, redwing blackbirds, doves and pigeons are native birds and they have their place in Nature’s scheme of things. We can welcome them, but on our terms, not theirs! With knowledge of specific feeders and food choices, we can manage the larger birds and allow our small birds to feed in peace.

Let’s take advantage of the fact that chickadees, nuthatches and titmice are agile clingers who easily feed at small, free-swinging globe feeders with no perches. Globe feeders are available in various sizes we can help you decide which size works best for your individual large bird issue. Fill your globe with black oil sunflower seed, loved by small birds and not so much by larger birds. Large birds find it virtually impossible to balance on free-swinging perchless globes and will soon leave them alone.

Here’s a quick solution to protecting your suet feeder from invaders–simply hang a dome shaped baffle over your suet basket to prevent starlings and grackles from landing. Baffles are available in metal or plastic.

Weight sensitive feeders such as the Squirrel Buster Plus have mechanisms that shroud access to seed. This spring device can be adjusted to disallow some heavier birds such as Grackles and Pigeons. If the large birds do a little flying dance, while holding onto the cardinal ring, and gain access to a few seeds, try removing the cardinal ring and shortening the perches. (Remember to loosen and retighten the wing nut on the bottom of the feeder to adjust the perch length.) This makes it pretty much impossible for these birds to grab any seeds since they are just too big and not agile enough to hold on to the small perches and flutter long enough. They give up pretty quickly. I have also found that if you deter access to your feeders for a couple of weeks, the birds go away and most often don’t return. You can add your cardinal ring again once the birds are gone for a couple of weeks.

Caged feeders are another option to keep large birds away. They are feeders such as the Droll Yankees tube feeder enclosed in a cage. Only the small birds can fit through the cage openings, eliminating the large birds from gaining access to the seeds as well as the squirrels. It can take a while for birds to get use to these feeders, so I suggest that you remove your other feeders to encourage the birds to go to the new feeder. Once they begin using it, you can bring back your other feeders.

Finally, set up a diversion feeding area for those big birds, and locate it well away from the smaller feeders. For this you want a large and broad platform feeder with plenty of room to land and perch. Fill it with inexpensive seed blends that include corn and millet, favourite foods of blackbirds and doves. Add peanuts and a few sunflower seeds for the jays. Squirrels will be diverted to this area as well. Platform feeders range from simple models constructed of wood, to long-lasting durable resin materials.

With the smaller birds on their special feeders and the large birds congregating on the platform feeder, you’ll enjoy a greater variety of birds in a peaceful setting!

Available at The Avant-Garden Shop: Caged feeders, Globe feeders, Squirrel Buster Plus, Tube feeders, Perch less tube feeders, Baffles

Where Are All My Finches?
By: Brenda Ibey

If your thistle feeder is not as busy as normal, there could be one of a few things happening.

The finches have found natural food and are enjoying that source for the time being. They’ll be back once that source has been depleted.

Another reason they may be avoiding your feeder is stale or dried up seed. Drop by our store for some fresh seed and your finches, chickadees and their friends will return very quickly.

And a third reason the birds may not be at your feeder are blocked ports. Sometimes the seeds get jammed up around the tiny feeding port and the birds can’t reach the seeds. Out of frustration they go looking for a better source. Clean your feeder and refill or try giving the feeder a shake to dislodge the seeds.

Use one of Droll Yankees brand or the Aspects brand feeders for best results. Both brands now come with quick release bases making the feeders easy to clean and refill quickly. These great feeders will really impress your dinner guests. Both come with Lifetime Warranties.

How to Select Bird Seed
By: David McLeod

Feeding birds in your back yard can be fun and rewarding. Songbirds will add colour, life and vibrancy to your garden. Attracting and keeping songbirds, however, can depend on a number of factors including the type and quality of seed that you provide.

The most popular seed is black-oil sunflower, which is accepted by the greatest variety of birds. Black-oil sunflower is an oil-rich food that is a good source of energy. Its thin shell makes it easy to open, even for small birds. This seed is a particular favourite of cardinals, chickadees, evening grosbeaks and purple finches but is also part of the diet of most other songbirds. You can’t go wrong with a hanging tube or hopper-style feeder full of black-oil sunflower seed.

Blended mixes should also be part of a back yard feeding program. Good blends will contain black-oil sunflower, in addition to other ingredients that will provide variety and nutrition. The blend you choose will depend on the birds that you wish to attract. For example, blends that contain millet will attract juncos, mourning doves and sparrows. Blue jays favour peanuts and striped sunflower, while cardinals like safflower. Some blends are adjusted seasonally to provide birds with the nutrition they require at different times of the year. Retailers who specialize in wild bird feeding will be able to help you select the blend that is right for you.

If you are interested in attracting gold finches and other finches, then nyger seed should be at the top of your list. Nyger is a small seed that is also rich in oil. Alternatively, you can opt for a wild finch blend, which contains nyger, red millet and other seeds preferred by finches. This is a cost-effective alternative to pure nyger. For nyger seed and wild finch blends, you will require a tube-style feeder with tiny feeding ports.

When it comes to selecting birdseed, it’s wise to keep in mind that not all brands of birdseed are the same. Not only should you know which seed is favoured by different species of birds, you need to be aware that the quality of birdseed can vary greatly between different brands. The old maxim “you get what you pay for” is true even for birdseed.

Selecting top quality birdseed is not difficult when you know what to look for. Here are a few basics:

Look for birdseed that appears fresh. The fresher the ingredients are, the more likely that all of the food will be eaten and not wasted. Store your seed in tight-lidded containers to preserve freshness.

Look for seed that is clean and dust-free. Powder that is created during processing adds weight to a bag, which you pay for but which the birds won’t eat. Be wary of opaque packaging that doesn’t allow you to inspect all the seed.

Pay attention to ingredients. Avoid blends that contain wheat, milo (sorghum) and other “fillers” that birds won’t eat. Look for sunflowers, nuts, corn, millets and fruits to attract the most birds.

Discount brands tend to have sunflower seeds that are immature. Good quality blends have sunflower seeds with greater kernel density and thus more food for the birds. Avoid sunflower seeds that appear flat, which is a sign of immaturity.

Avoid buying bird feed with a powder-like appearance on the grains. This is a sign of mould. Once contaminated, mould will spread quickly through a bag of seed. No birds will eat mouldy seed.

Finally, once you are attracting birds to your yard, keep them coming back by ensuring that they have a clean and fresh supply of food. Inspect and clean your feeders on a regular basis and dispose of any seed that has gone mouldy. By providing birds with a good quality seed in a well-maintained feeder you will enjoy weeks of enjoyable bird watching in your own back yard.

The Avant-Garden Shop is a retail store specializing in backyard birding supplies and gardening accessories. Visit them at 165 Sherbrooke St. in Peterborough, online at, or contact them by phone at 705-743-0068 (toll-free 877-886-0869).

Squirrel-Proofing Your Bird Feeder
By: Dave McLeod

Does this sound familiar? You’ve just filled your bird feeders and you’re successfully attracting a variety of songbirds to your backyard. But that’s not all you’re attracting: hordes of marauding squirrels are threatening to eat you, or at least the birds, out of house and home. With the price of birdseed these days, you can’t afford to feed those ravenous rodents, so what can you do to squirrel-proof your bird feeders?

The best way to discourage squirrels is to make it difficult for them to access your bird feeders. A very effective method is to protect the feeders with a baffle. Squirrels can climb smooth poles and run along narrow clotheslines, but they cannot get by a strategically placed baffle. A conical or tube-shaped baffle, which is positioned approximately four feet off the ground, can protect a feeder that is mounted on a pole. A feeder that hangs from a line or tree will benefit from a top-mount baffle. When using baffles, you should ensure that the feeder is positioned at least 12 feet away from walls, fences, and tree trunks to prevent the squirrels from jumping to the feeder.

Another effective strategy is to buy a bird feeder that has been designed to be squirrel-proof or, at least, squirrel-resistant. There are a couple of variations on this theme. One style has a feeder surrounded by a cage that allows small birds in, but keeps squirrels and large birds out. This style is great for small song birds such as chickadees, finches, siskins and red polls, but could prevent some desirable species, such as cardinals, from feeding.

A second style of squirrel-proof feeder is weight-sensitive. When something heavy, such as a squirrel or a large bird, lands on the feeder, its weight causes the feeding stations to close, thereby preventing the critter from feeding. There are a number of models on the market, some of which are more effective than others. One of the best is the Brome Squirrel Buster Plus, a bird feeder with features too numerous to mention (see photo). It comes with a lifetime factory warranty and is guaranteed squirrel-proof. Check it out at .

If you don’t want to upgrade your bird feeding equipment, you can try thwarting squirrels by using blends of birdseed that they find distasteful. One of the best is Squirrel FreeTM , packaged by Mill Creek, a firm located in Newmarket, Ontario. Through observation and experiment, the nature lovers at Mill Creek have been able to identify types of seed that squirrels will avoid, but which birds will still enjoy.

Finally, you can try keeping squirrels away from your bird feeders by distracting them. For example, you can install a box feeder filled with corn kernels or hang a corncob “trapper” for the squirrels to feed from. If your squirrels have their very own feeder, situated well away from any bird feeders, they may stick to their own turf and leave the birdseed alone.

There is no question that squirrels can be a nuisance around bird feeders and a costly one at that. However, keep in mind that squirrels are just being themselves. You shouldn’t let your desire to keep squirrels away from your bird feeders result in any harm to them. Don’t use poison or traps that will kill. Don’t use sticky material that can soil squirrel fur and bird feathers. Never add cayenne pepper to your birdseed (if a squirrel gets it in the eyes, the resulting misery and scratching may result in blindness).

Whatever you do, don’t give up on feeding the birds. Squirrels may be intelligent but, with careful thought, it’s not hard to foil them. After all, we’re smarter, right?

The Avant-Garden Shop is a retail store specializing in backyard birding supplies and gardening accessories. Visit them at 165 Sherbrooke St. in Peterborough, online at, or contact them by phone at 705-743-0068 (toll-free 877-886-0869).

Winter Bird Feeding Mark Bennett, Wild Bird Trading Co Excerpt from ?Birds of the Wild? magazine volume 3 1997

Feeding wild birds in Canada during the winter months requires some special consideration. Canadian winters are very cold and the nights are long, sources of water are often frozen and shelter remains a must for many fragile birds. Even grit, which birds require in order to digest food, can become quite scarce in midwinter when the snow is deep. A simple thing like feeder maintenance can make all the difference in the world.

Many birds feed during the day only and thus require enough food to sustain warmth during the long winter nights. In Canada, the winter nights can last up to 15 hours and for some birds, the relationship between the length of night, cold temperatures and the availability of food, will determine survival. A study by Kendeigh (1945) illustrates this relationship as it affects the House Sparrow. The study found that the House Sparrow could go for 67 1/2 hours without food at 85 degrees Fahrenheit. At 50 degrees, there was a substantial decrease in survival time. At 5 degrees, the House Sparrow could survive only 15 hours without food. At -20 F, it could live only 10 hours, and at -30 F, lived for only 7 hours.

It is critical that food is available to birds at dawn and at dusk, to enable birds to survive the long and cold Canadian nights. Food at dusk will prepare a bird for the night, and at dawn, food will provide warmth to help it recover from the night. Corn is a good source of carbohydrates, which in turn gives birds energy to stay warm. Suet is also a good source of high-energy food for warmth. So when your seed supplier advertises, “No Corn” mixes, add some corn to the seed to help keep the birds warm!

There are other ways to help birds endure the cold. Roosting boxes offer excellent shelter by increasing the temperature of the immediate surrounding area for the inhabitant. Cardinals will stay overnight in dense coniferous trees – perhaps a good use for discarded Christmas trees!

Another winter difficulty faced by birds is the availability of fresh water. Some birds have difficulty consuming snow as a source of water and thus fresh water is preferable. Bird enthusiasts can help by providing a heater in the birdbath or there are birdbaths with heaters built in. See a Heated bird bath here.

Proper feeder maintenance will ensure that an ample amount of bird feed will be available to help keep the birds warm. Be sure to keep the tray of the feeder free of ice and frozen seed. Sometimes the seed will freeze and block the flow of seed and even though it will look as if the feeder is full, the birds will not have access to the vital nourishment. Keep the seed as dry as possible and this will prove to be good prevention at locations such as cottages where maintenance may only be performed occasionally.

Finally, the availability of grit diminishes in the winter, as the snow grows deeper. Birds are often forced to find grit on the roadway, which presents two problems. Firstly, there is the obvious threat of traffic, and second, the grit on the road is often mixed with salt and birds would be better off without the salt. The Season’s Woodland Bird Food Mix from The Avant-Garden Shop has grit mixed in during the fall and winter months!

Remember that as the winter passes, the natural sources of food will be consumed and backyard bird feeding will become increasingly important in providing our Canadian wild birds with the sustenance they need to survive the long winter and to endure until nature begins to provide again.

The Avant-Garden Shop