"Sometimes I'll used cracked corn," Comins said. "It's essentially seed corn that's been cracked up into small pieces. The problem with the cracked corn is, if it gets wet, it can get toxic much more easily than the other options."
Corn appeals to grouse, pheasants, turkeys, cardinals, grosbeaks, crows, jays and other species, but it's also attractive to bears, raccoons and deer, according to Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology.
Some birds eat peanuts, too.
Titmice, blue jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees all like peanuts, Comins said.
"And some of them will even take peanuts right out of your hands -- titmice in particular," Comins said.
Birds can get seriously ill from bird feeders that aren't cleaned regularly, or from seed husks or seeds that become moldy, particularly if they sit in water.
Bird feces also can pass along illness.
Feeders should be cleaned about every other week, according to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.
Wash the feeder in soapy water, then soak it in a solution of bleach water that is one part bleach and nine parts water, according to the Cornell bird experts. It's important to dry the feeder completely before refilling it so that the seed doesn't get moldy again.
Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned each time the nectar is replaced, or about three to five days.
Birds that feed off the ground can get sick from the remains of seeds that get left around. Be sure to clean up husks and other debris as often as possible.
Thistle feeders also can get moldy and toxic.
For information about how often to wash bird feeders, visit Cornell's website (www.birds.cornell.edu) and search for "feeder care."
Invariably, feeding birds invites unwelcome guests. Most are fluffy, gray acrobats who seem to outwit even the brightest among the bird-feeding community.
Squirrels have a knack for jumping on, raiding and gnawing through bird feeders.
Comins recommends feeders that are at least 8-feet tall and not within 10 feet of a place where squirrels could launch a hopeful jump. Manufacturers make some "squirrel proof" feeders that close under the squirrel's weight. Some people used barriers, or "squirrel baffles," such as plastic disks or half globes, to prevent squirrels from climbing to a pole feeder, or tightrope-walking to get to a feeder dangling from a clothes line.
Some birdseed is treated with capsaicin, which has hot peppers, but Cornell bird experts say it may irritate the eyes of birds. Researchers also haven't looked into the full effects of capsaicin on birds' digestive systems.
Cats can be devastating to bird populations. Both Comins and Dickson believe house cats should be kept indoors, which allows them to live longer lives away from cars, coyotes and things that can be toxic to cats. The best way to protect birds is to provide cover for them -- thick bushes where the birds can hide, but not so close to the feeder that a cat can ambush the birds.
Bears love bird feeders. Winter can be a good time to offer bird seed without running the risk of attracting bears, but it really depends on the weather, Dickson said. If it's warm enough, a bear will ransack a feeder in January.
People who live in areas where bears frequent should take down their feeders in the spring. Knowing when to take them down depends on the neighborhood, Comins said.
"I think most people who live in bear areas know to take the feeders down because it gets expensive," Comins said. "They destroy your bird feeders once or twice and you've learned your lesson, you take them down."
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