Janesville75.3°

Market forces drive up the cost of birdseed

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Catherine W. Idzerda
January 18, 2008

So now it’s come to this: Big oil and health nuts are hurting local chickadees.


No kidding, we couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried.


The price of oil has driven up the demand for ethanol and bio-diesel.


Which has propelled prices for corn and soybeans.


Which means farmers would rather plant corn and beans than sunflowers and safflowers.


Now toss in those health-food nuts.


New York City and other municipalities have banned trans fats in restaurants; companies such as Frito Lay are creating more trans-fat free products. Both trends have increased the demand for different food-grade oils, such as safflower oil.


The result?


The price of quality birdseed has gone up 30 to 50 percent, leaving many local birdies out in the cold.


Local chickadees and other avian types declined to be interviewed, saying that they didn’t want to waste precious BTU’s talking to the media.


However, other local experts confirmed the big-oil-health-nut-birdseed connection.


“The price of corn and soybeans has doubled in the past two years,” said Jim Stute, UW Extension crops and soils agent.


Ed Hookham, who co-owns Jack & Dick’s Feed & Garden, Janesville, said he’s seen prices for feed and seed rise almost across the board.


“Really, all of our seed has climbed pretty steady,” Hookham said. “It tracks with the corn and soybean prices.”


The cost of birdseed, especially safflower seed, has risen 30 to 35 percent, Hookham said.


The price of oil also means the cost of transporting seeds to stores is more expensive, too, said Marty Wacha, of Janesville’s Wild Birds Unlimited.


With a nasty cold snap coming, birds need to eat—regardless of the price of birdseed. Forecasters predict temperatures near and below zero for the weekend and early next week.


Fortunately, bird enthusiasts can help their avian friends through the nastiest part of the winter while getting the most for their money.


Wacha, Hookham and specialists from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology offered these tips:


Water first

“The No. 1 thing that birds need is a heated bird bath,” Wacha said. “For birds, winter is almost like a desert. It takes a lot of BTUs to melt snow—it’s just physics.”


When birds use up precious energy melting snow for moisture, it means they have to eat and metabolize more food to keep warm.


Birds also need water to bathe in—clean feathers provide the best insulation, according to the Cornell lab’s Web site, www.birds.cornell.edu.


Consider getting a heated birdbath or buying a heating element to put in your existing birdbath.


Fat is good

“Any high-fat food, high-calorie food is good,” Hookham said.


But pick your feed carefully, or you might end up paying for stuff even squirrels wouldn’t eat. Well, the squirrels might eat it, but it wouldn’t do much for them.


“All our packages show the amount of crude fat, crude protein and crude fiber,” Wacha said. “If you buy something with 5 percent fat, a bird has to eat five times as much to get what they need.”


Safflower, sunflower and nyjer thistle seeds, peanuts and suet are all good sources of fat.


Be careful with suet, too—not all suet is created equal.


For example, some manufacturers add milo and wheat seeds, which many birds don’t like. However, birds will eat raisins and fruit embedded in suet.


“Some of the suets go up to 40 percent crude fat,” Wacha said.


That’s good eating for birds.


Pick the food that will give the birds the most nutrition for the money.


If you have squirrel problems, safflower is good choice, even though it’s more expensive. Safflower has a bitter taste that squirrels don’t like, Wacha said.


Consider buying a seed tray to place under the feeder so the birds get a second chance at seeds they’ve dropped.


Another option is to spread peanut butter on a bagel or into a pinecone and hang it from a tree.


Keep that feeder filled

“Birds have a real high consumption (of food) compared to their body mass,” Hookham said. “You might have to give a 1,200-pound dairy cow 80 to 90 pounds of food a day. A chickadee has to eat just about its body weight.”


Obviously, birds need even more food when it’s colder.



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