Have you seen the commercial that shows the concerned driver who stops his vehicle in the woods to let the animals find shelter underneath? The commercial that sets me screaming every time I see it? When the storm is over, the guy gets out and tells all the little animals that it is now safe to go.
You see in this sweet tableau a fox with a rabbit almost under its nose. They emerge from under the vehicle and the rabbit hops away. Many folks get their impressions of wildlife from such erroneous offerings. Anyone who has spent any time at all in the woods can tell you that rabbit would never be under anything with a fox. The fox would have the rabbit for lunch. Period.
We love to think of wild creatures as "cute," "innocent" and tame. Truth is, all wild creatures are wild, feral and unpredictable. I spend a good bit of time absorbing this reality while observing the behavior of birds at my feeders. Even here, there is a well-established pecking order. Certain birds eat their fill first while the "lesser" birds line up and wait their turn.
Birds simply have no etiquette. A beautiful female cardinal is the first one to my feeder each morning. If any sparrow or wren dares to approach the feeder the cardinal hunches up and pecks at the intruder. Sometimes there are 20 birds lined up on the fence waiting for the cardinal to finish. They don't understand that if they ganged up on the cardinal, their problem would be solved.
One morning, an especially hungry bird challenged the cardinal. It fluttered in the air above the cardinal while she pecked and flapped her wings in the other bird's direction. The little brown sparrow refused to give in. It pecked back and then audaciously landed on the feeder opposite the cardinal. The cardinal fluffed her feathers (to make herself look bigger and more fearsome) and charged the sparrow. The sparrow held her ground against the bully. Soon there were two birds on the feeder, the cardinal and the sparrow.
That's how it is in the wild. Birds are not "cute" and helpless. They fight for territory and charge at intruders and hassle each other for feeding positions.
You will never find a fox and a grouse or a rabbit or anything else that is on a fox's preferred menu sheltered anywhere together during a storm.
On a daily basis, I stand at my kitchen window and watch the wrens and cardinals battle. When I first began to feed backyard birds I noticed that some seeds were pushed out and ignored by the birds. They don't eat whatever you put out!
Incidentally, those wasted seeds showed up as weeds in my flower garden the next summer. I've learned to be discriminating in the seeds I purchase.
Milo is low on a bird's preferred list. They'll eat it if there is nothing else available. Wheat and other grains are also just fillers in most bagged birdseed so it pays to read labels and be sure the seed you are about to buy is not overloaded with grains and milo.
Most recommend that sunflower seeds are the top bird food available. You'll attract more than sparrows to your feeder if you offer a wide variety of seeds. White proso millet is a close second to sunflower seeds in popularity.
Bigger birds such as doves and finches like millet. Cracked corn is good for cardinals, even woodpeckers.
And squirrels. If you don't have a squirrel-proof feeder I would not put out cracked corn.
If you really want to get into it, birds love the soft suet chunks, available at the meat market for next to nothing. Just hang it from a net bag from a tree limb or a feeder.
It provides quick energy for birds so it's a real boost to them during prolonged storms.
Remember that black bears love suet, too. They'll tear down anything that stands in their way to get to it. The mild winter so far has not convinced all bears to go into their deep sleep and I've heard reports of bears being seen near birdfeeders this year. The bears, especially the 2- or 3-year old males that were kicked out by mama bear last summer so she would be free to breed.
They cruise around looking for food and bird feeders are easy targets. You may have to bring your feeders inside at night. Once a bear locates one, he'll be by it every day.
I find backyard bird feeding fascinating and a visible lesson on survival. The birds who are bold enough to bluff charges on smaller birds are the ones who become the fattest.
At least the birds are not hypocritical about their intentions. Like all wild animals, their manifesto is "me first!"