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Feathered friends flock to the Peterson diner

For more than 30 years now, Marilyn Peterson and husband Paul have shared the hobby of watching various types of birds dining among the feeders outside their house, joining the millions who make bird feeding one of the most popular hobbies in the US.

Marilyn says she personally loves watching the pileated woodpeckers and the flittering chickadees, but those aren't the only birds her feeder attracts.

In northern Minnesota there is a wide assortment living in the area, such as gold finches, red and white-breasted nuthatches, several types of woodpeckers, chickadees and rose-breasted grosbeaks to name a few. Though, she says, some have come and gone in her particular area over the years.

"We used to have lots and lots of evening grosbeaks," she mentioned, in addition to red poles she hasn't seen as much lately.

Of course, the birds you get can depend on what type of food is left out for them. Marilyn likes to use the black oil sunflower seeds and suet, an animal fat mixture, in the winter.

"Sunflower seeds are the best," she explained.

She feels plain seeds attract more birds than the mixed yellow-colored birdseeds that contain few black sunflower seeds.

There are also a few homemade options when feeding birds.

In the summer, Marilyn puts out jelly in a dish to appeal to the tastes of orioles, and she also mixes up nectar for hummingbirds. She explained many birds will go after just about any kinds of scraps, such as corn or bread, people leave out for them. It's just a matter of what people want lying outside their homes.

As for the cost of bird feeding, Marilyn said her black oil sunflower seeds have gone up in price the past few years.

Typically, a 50-pound bag of black oil seeds runs around $13 and Marilyn goes through about one bag every month. The suet she buys is $1 for three quarters of a pound, though she says suet is not hard to make yourself. A person can mix a chunk of beef or pork fat with seed or other scraps and put it in an onion sack or a mesh bag of some sort for the same result.

Bird feeding is relatively easy. The problem lies in keeping the pests out of the food.

"The squirrels have been destructive," said Marilyn.

There are ways to help prevent squirrels and chipmunks from getting into the seed and suet. Using metal poles and chains to hang feeders help and also placing the suet inside a wire basket. Marilyn also pointed out the squirrel baffle on her feeders' post. A squirrel baffle is metal and disk-like, loosely fitting around the pole so squirrels are dumped off when they attempt to climb it.

As for identifying what types of birds are on the feeders, Marilyn suggests finding a book or online source that shows both the male, female and juvenile pictures along with the regions in which each type of bird is found.

"Online birding sites have helped a lot in identifying," she mentioned.

She also feels sources with photos are easier to identify birds than drawings and that it is sometimes difficult to know for sure if it is the right bird through the pictures.

"It's like people; everybody doesn't look the same either."

For anyone interested in getting started in bird feeding, Marilyn offers some simple advice, "Put up a feeder and see what you get."