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Down the Garden Path

Bird feeders in the yard

Bird feeders will bring in a variety of migrating birds during the early spring on their journey to summer digs. This is before there is much for them to eat elsewhere, in nature or in home landscapes. Our winter resident birds that have hung out with us all winter still need that seed too. Be sure to continue your feeding efforts well into spring until they can find food on their own. Plan to use up all birdseed so summer storage or grain pests are not issues. Birds also need water, and without snow now, remember to leave out some shallow dishes of water.

Just like so many other things we enjoy, there are a couple of maintenance and spring-cleaning activities associated with supporting nature. If you have not checked recently, you may be surprised to find the feeding slots or holes partially or completely blocked off by seed debris. The leftover debris will moisten and cake together limiting the kinds of seeds getting through. The remedy is dumping the seed into a pail and doing a thorough cleaning of the inside of the feeder, paying special attention to the openings, before returning the seed to the feeder and putting it back into service.

Besides dealing with the feeder itself, getting the seed hulls out of the lawn and off the patio is another challenge. If you have fed all winter, sunflower hulls will pile up below the feeder. They mix with other seed hulls and can mat together too. You will want to remove as much as you can before lawns start to grow again; the seed hull mat easily can smoother grass plants as they begin to emerge. Raking the hulls out of the lawn with a hard rake or a leaf rake is a good start. Once you have gotten as much of the hulls out of the lawn, resorting to a wet-dry vacuum can remove even more for you. A square-nosed shovel, or even the snow shovel, and a course bristled broom can work pretty well on the smooth surface of the patio. The wet-dry vacuum can clean up the rest.

You can add all the seed hulls to your compost pile or bin rather than put them in the garbage. Birds do a good job just leaving behind just the hulls, but you can expect to see a few seeds germinating if you do not incorporate the hulls into the bin or pile as you routinely do with the rest of the yard waste that goes towards composting.

A great family activity is keeping a journal of when our migrating birds begin to show up at the feeder. Robins, for example, have already been spotted. What will you see at your feeder next?

Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with This Week in the Garden videos at and the Green Side Up podcast at The Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk resumes for 2018 in March – Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 630-553-5823.