|Dark-eyed juncos working on a suet cake.|
Along with the feeders offering sunflower seeds and niger thistle, a/k/a black gold, I usually have a couple of holders for suet cakes. The box for the current offering lists its ingredients thus: rendered beef suet, milo, millet, sunflower seeds, wheat, corn.
These suet cakes generally attract omnivorous and agile birds: jays and chickadees, plus nuthatches, who like to hang upside down and peck at them — and woodpeckers of course, which for us means mostly downies.
Meanwhile, the dark-eyed juncos, in their dozens, are on the ground under the sunflower feeders, or sometimes up in them, sometimes on the thistle feeders too, but predominately on the ground.
Until this year. It's like they suddenly figured out the suet cakes and figured, what the heck, a little beef fat won't hurt us in cold weather. Yum, beef fat!
One year, as part of Cornell University's Project Feeder Watch, which M. and I have been participating in since the mid-1990s, some bird-seed company asked us to study the preferences of different species for different seeds.
We put out samples of, for instance, milo (grain sorghun), millet, and sunflower seeds on paper plates and then were supposed to count how many and what species came to them for a span of time.
Milo and millet bulk up many of the wild bird seed mixes that you see as "attracting many species" and such, but the fact is that they are second and third choices for the birds — except for juncos, doves, and maybe pheasants — but we don't see pheasants here, and the wild turkeys rarely come into the yard.
Finches, in my experience, tend to high-grade the sunflower seeds and ignore the rest.
So now the question is, are the juncos going for the fat, or are they picking the milo out of it because they like the stuff?