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Bird Feet

Avian Multi-Tools

Pause to consider the functions required of various birds’ feet: perching, clinging, walking, swimming, preening, carrying objects, egg rolling, mating displays, and even heat loss regulation. It turns out that a foot’s functions emerge as an arrangement of the toes.

The Toes Do the Work

Birds are considered digitigrade, which means that they generally walk on their toes, not on their entire foot. Most birds have 4 toes. How these toes are arranged will tell us a lot about their habits.

Toes of Perching Birds

Songbirds are considered perching birds. They have independent, flexible toes, with one facing backwards and three facing forward, best for grasping perches. This is called anisodactyl.
When perching birds sit, a tendon on the backside of their foot automatically flexes, locking their toes around a perch, like a branch. When their feet are in this position, their toes are locked
in place—so sleeping birds don’t fall. As the bird stands up,
the tendon releases.

Toes of Water Birds

Water birds, like ducks, have webbing between their toes for swimming. Gulls also have similar webbed feet to provide more surface area for walking in soft mud near water.
Wading birds, like herons, have long toes which help spread their weight over
a large area to help walking on soft surfaces near the water’s edge. The Snowy Egret has bright yellow toes that it wiggles as lures to attract fish.

Toes of Raptors

Raptors, like hawks, eagles, and owls use their large claws to capture, kill, and carry prey with their feet. Owl feet are even more unique in that they can also rotate one toe forward, so they have three toes forward and one toe backwards for perching.

Toes of Clinging Birds

The toes of clinging birds, such as woodpeckers, are arranged differently from perching birds. They have zygodactyl feet, which means that two toes face forward and two toes face backwards. Owls and most parrots also have zygodactyl feet. This foot shape allows these birds to climb up, down and along the trunk of a tree, and to hang upside-down.
With this zygodactyl arrangement, woodpeckers can access upside-down suet feeders while most other birds cannot. An upside-down suet feeder can eliminate suet raiders like Red-winged Blackbirds, starlings, grackles and crows, since they cannot cling upside down as easily as woodpeckers.

A “Hybrid” Foot

White-breasted Nuthatches hang upside-down, but do not have zygodactyl feet. Instead, you might classify nuthatches as perching/clinging hybrids: their toes are still arranged as a perching bird, but they have an extra large claw on one backward-facing toe that allows them to keep a grip better than most other perching birds.

Downy or Hairy?

Here’s a quick video to help you feel confident in identifying these similar-looking birds.

Downy or Hairy Woodpecker?
Downy (left) and Hairy (right) Woodpeckers. Photo by Jim Weisman.

Versatile Treats: Mealworms

Many birds—not only orioles and bluebirds—enjoy mealworms and will benefit throughout the year from the protein, fat and fiber they provide. 

Mealworms are actually the larval form of the mealworm beetle, also known as the darkling beetle. They are not slimy but rather easy to work with. Serving mealworms will aid your birds throughout the winter cold and into spring reproduction and summer nestling and fledgling feeding.
Birds attracted to mealworms—in the winter and throughout the year—include cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees and woodpeckers. During Minnesota’s spring and summer, mealworms also benefit Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, orioles, bluebirds and Scarlet Tanagers.

Live Mealworms

Since their movement attracts attention, birds seem to prefer live mealworms. Live mealworms should be served in a smooth-sided cup or container with 1-2″ high sides. Live mealworms need to be stored in the refrigerator. Using a window feeder brings the birds up close for excellent viewing!

Dried Mealworms

Dried mealworms are very versatile and never spoil. They can be mixed right in with your birdseed in a hopper, tray, tube or dish-style feeder. Sprinkle dried mealworms with olive oil for extra nutrition. In the spring and summer, soaking the dried mealworms in nectar and serving them in a dish feeder attracts orioles.

Best Mealworm Products

Our Picks:

For really easy dried mealworm feeding, select a suet cake, seed cake, bell or seed cylinder that includes dried mealworms within the product. Shown: Mealworm and Peanut suet cake by Pacific Bird and Co.

Great for offering treats to orioles and more. The cup is easily removable for cleaning and is made of durable polycarbonate. Use this feeder to offer grape jelly, an orange half, or mealworms to a variety of birds.

With perching areas shaped like the petals of a flower, this oriole feeder provides pegs for orange halves and an orange plastic bowl for serving grape jelly, live mealworms, or dried mealworms soaked in nectar.

Article by Minnetonka Manager CAROL CHENAULT

Reprinted from the September/October 2019 Bird’s-Eye View Newsletter

Fall Transition Tasks

Minnetonka Manager Carol Chenault shares how she readies her backyard for the change in seasons.

Addressing Nectar Feeders

As I bid the Baltimore Orioles farewell the first week of September, the transition to fall backyard bird feeding begins. Taking down the oriole feeders, washing them well with soap and water and disinfecting them with either bleach (1:10 ratio of bleach to water) or white vinegar (50:50 vingar to water) is an autumn routine. However, I keep my hummingbird feeders full of fresh nectar. Though male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds leave in early September, some females and juveniles remain until late October.

Cleaning, Rearranging

I do like to rearrange things (just ask the staff at the Minnetonka store), so the departure of the orioles leads to feeder cleaning and rearranging of the feeding stations. It’s a good time to disassemble, soak and scrub feeders and clean out birdhouses. Leaving some birdhouses out for the winter may provide shelter as a winter roost for chickadees and nuthatches. I replace the oriole feeders with feeders for suet and Peanut Pick-Outs to entice Red-breasted Nuthatches, woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees. Though disguised in their dull olive-yellow winter plumage, we do have American Goldfinches in the yard all winter. Adding a feeder filled with Nyjer™ & Chips will provide more feeding volume just in case it’s a winter that brings redpolls and Pine Siskins here in numbers. I also sprinkle some Nyjer™ & Chips on the ground for the Dark-eyed Juncos that return in September.

Changing Up Food Offerings

Offer peanuts in the shell for Blue Jays and woodpeckers

A favorite fall activity at our house is watching the Blue Jays cache peanuts in the shell and whole corn kernels. I prefer to feed Blue Jays at their own feeding station about 20 feet from the other feeders. This allows them to visit without disturbing the smaller birds. Blue Jays warn other birds of impending danger from predators like owls, hawks, cats and snakes. We have often heard them call the alarm and send the other birds fleeing, saving them from hawks like the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks during the winter months.

Flocks of migrating grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds move through Minnesota until late October. Feeders filled with golden safflower seem to be less inviting to grackles, starlings and Red-wings but the Northern Cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees, House Finches and others love it. After fall migration is completed, I might switch to a no-mess seed like Medium Sunflower Chips or Kracker Jax. These have no shells, leave no mess and won’t germinate in the spring. The pre-shelled seeds provide for quick energy for less effort and help birds to survive severe weather.

Gardening, Keeping Autumn Birds in Mind

Goldfinch on seed head
Leave seed heads on for birds.

Fall garden cleanup commences but I leave the stalks and seed heads standing of the rudbeckia, sunflower, bee balm, aster and coneflower. They are a fall feast for goldfinches and chickadees. When trimming shrubs, leaving V-shaped branches encourages American Robins and cardinals to nest in the spring. Creating a brush pile in the back corner of the lot provides cover for the birds and protection from predators, wind and weather.

Autumn brings Cedar Waxwings, robins and cardinals to berry-producing bushes and trees like the high bush cranberry, red osier dogwood and crabapples. Their visits to the birdbath are a delight.

Preparing the Heated Birdbath

At some point the heated birdbath will be needed. If the bath has lime deposits, I fill it with water and white vinegar (50:50), let it sit overnight and scrub it out with a birdbath brush in the morning. I hope for a long, beautiful fall with no need for the heated birdbath, but it will be cleaned and ready to go when needed.

Minnetonka All Seasons Wild Bird Store manager Carol Chenault has been helping our customers since 2003 and feeding birds for as long as she can remember.

Reprinted from our Sept/Oct 2017 edition of Bird’s-Eye View

Feed Backyard Birds; Entertain Your Cats!

Cat watching birdsMost cats love watching small animals, especially when it comes to birds.

Setting up a window bird feeders for your indoor cats will provide hours of entertainment for them. Stalking their prey through a window helps them become more active during the day and hopefully less active at night. Your cats can suffer from boredom just like we do. Set up easy viewing for your cats by creating a comfortable place where they can watch the feeders. Make sure to secure your window and window screens so that your cat is safe and can’t fall out.

You may even get to hear the cats do some “chirping” or chattering of their own when watching the birds.


Apply for our Holiday Artisans Pop-Up

Calling Local Artisans!

All Seasons Wild Bird Stores are proud to be locally owned and operated for over 25 years. This holiday season, we are partnering with local artisans to offer high-quality, locally made products to our customers for holiday gift giving.

Now in its second year, our boutique-style Holiday Artisans Pop-Up seeks local artisans who create nature and bird-themed art and gifts, including paper goods, jewelry, pottery, woodworking and more. Up to 10 artists will be selected by a jury to sell their high-quality, handmade gifts in one of two All Seasons Wild Bird Store locations during the holiday season.

Artists will be required to be present for a meet-and-greet at their assigned location during Small Business Saturday (November 30th) for 3 hours between 10am and 3pm. Following the Holiday Open House, artists will be asked to leave stock for sale until December 24th. We may ask artists to restock items as needed throughout the pop-up sale.

To Apply: Download a pdf of the application here. Email the completed application with 3 digital images representative of your work to

Application fee: None. All Seasons Wild Bird Store will take a 35% commission fee from each sale.

Application deadline: September 15th, 2019. Artists will be notified by October 1, 2019.

Prevent Window Collisions

Each year, 350 million or more wild birds perish from collisions with windows in America. You can do something to help! Apply UV-reflecting WindowAlert™ decals to your picture windows. The decals shine like a beacon to birds, but are hardly noticeable to humans.

What birds see
What we see

Nesting for Many Birds is Not “One and Done”

Nesting season is well under way for our backyard birds. Although “one and done” is not true for some of our backyard birds when it comes to nesting. Just as soon as they have one brood off, they start another brood.

American Robins can do 2–3 broods a season; Eastern Bluebirds have 2–3 broods; House Wrens do 2 broods a season and Northern Cardinals do 2–3 broods a season. Oftentimes, each brood can take up to a month from laying the eggs to fledging of the babies. Even our latest nesters, the American Goldfinch, can produce 2 broods a season.

Most songbirds do not reuse the old nest, no matter how clean they’ve kept it. Moving their nest site because predators are less likely to find the nest before the babies fledge.

Think of all the work these birds go through in a single season. Building 2–3 nests, incubating the eggs for days, feeding the hatchlings for days, and then starting over. It’s a high energy consumption period for our backyard birds!

You can make things a bit easier for songbirds that are in the midst of the busy nesting season by providing high-energy no-melt suet dough, live or dried mealworms, and a variety of backyard seeds like Joe’s Mix, golden safflower, and Nyjer and Chips (a favorite of nesting finches!).

By Guest Contributor MELISSA BLOCK

Summer Suet

Suet isn’t just for winter anymore. In the spring and summer, it is a great way to provide brooding birds and their nestlings with a generous amount of calories in an easy-to-eat form. Suet with insects or fruit added appeal to a wide range of birds and may provide a source of insects when they are scarce.

Birds that enjoy suet include bluebirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, wrens, cardinals and warblers. Suet is ideal for summer because adults need more calories to forage for food for their young or defend the nest from intruders. It is also beneficial for young birds because it provides easy energy, which leads to quick growth. The fat in suet provides twice the caloric energy of protein. This fat energy helps the birds sustain activity levels between meals.

Originally, suet came from the fat surrounding the organs of butchered animals. It was traditionally hung out in the winter to help the birds through the cold weather. This practice was fine as long as the cold preserved the fat. As the temperature warms, suet can spoil or become rancid and harbor bacterial and fungal growth that may be harmful to birds. In addition, melting suet can coat feathers and interfere with their natural waterproofing and insulating functions. The smell of melting suet may attract predators and cause damage to hard surfaces and plants. Finally, it makes a terrible, wasteful, mess.

Fortunately, today’s suet cakes and plugs are rendered, or melted repeatedly, to remove impurities and raise the melting point. Today’s processed suet products typically won’t melt until temperatures are consistently above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. No melt formula suet is mixed with grain, cornmeal or seeds to bind the cake together. These may also be called suet dough.

Other precautions can be taken to safely provide suet for warm weather birds. First of all, place the feeder in a cool, shady area. It is preferable to receive that shade later in the day when temperatures are higher. Add a baffle or cover to provide shade. Secondly, portion suet cakes or plugs out in halves or thirds so that you only put out what the birds will eat in a day. Another trick is to freeze the suet. A hard cake will not put off birds because the edges will soften first while the center stays frozen. Finally, use a tray to catch drips for easier clean up and to preserve hard surfaces and plants under the feeder.

Although feeding suet used to only be a wintertime activity, modern processing and innovations have allowed us to continue providing energy packed treats for our birds year round. By implementing a few guidelines, you may soon see parents bringing their young to the suet feeder to show them where to find “the good stuff”!

By Bloomington Assistant Manager TRISH WAGLE
Reprinted from Volume 21 Issue 4 | July/August 2014 Bird’s-Eye View

Video: Tube Feeders & Accessories

Learn about tube feeders including: advantages, types and helpful accessories.

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