How to select firewood, bird feeders

Burning firewood in a stove or fireplace and feeding birds are two activities that can keep you in touch with nature in winter.

Good choices for firewood

Anybody who has burned a significant amount of firewood develops some favorites. Here is a list with some of the pros and cons of each type.

Ash -- This is a great firewood. It cures quickly, is easy to start, burns hot, stores well and burns for a long time. You do need to split it soon after cutting; otherwise, wood-boring insects can get into it and make the wood punky. The insects are usually not a problem once the ash is split.

Locust -- This stuff lasts forever on the firewood pile, burns hot and burns for a long time. However, it does take a while to cure and doesn't have a very pleasant odor. Locust is a good choice for wood stoves.

Hickory -- It is easy to cure, lights easily, and it burns hot and for a long time. It also has a very pleasing aroma. Hickory becomes real punky after one season on the firewood pile so make sure you use it by the end of the winter. It also can pop, so if you use it for fireplaces make sure you have a screen or glass enclosure to deflect any flying embers.

Fruit wood (apple, pear, cherry) -- Most wood from fruit trees has many desirable qualities, including burning hot and staying ignited for a long time. Fruit wood is easy to start and has a pleasing odor. This is very nice wood for fireplaces. Sometimes local orchards will sell fruit wood after they prune their trees.

Oak -- It's the standard, and much of the firewood available for purchase is oak. It burns hot and lasts for a long time. Oak takes a while to cure, so any green wood you acquire should be left to cure for six months or longer.

Birch -- Locally, there is an abundant supply of black birch. This is excellent firewood. It burns long and hot with a pleasant aroma. Birch is a very good choice for fireplaces.

Feeding birds in winter

For birds, finding food and water during the coldest months of the year can be a formidable task. Feeding birds and bird watching are popular hobbies. It's easy to do and you can start at any time. By using specific styles of bird feeders and different seed mixtures, you can attract specific bird species to your yard.

Mixed birdseed on a simple tray or platform feeder mounted above the ground attracts sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, blue jays, starlings and grackles.

A tube feeder filled with sunflower seed is sure to delight some of the smaller birds like the American goldfinch, black-capped chickadee, Carolina chickadee and tufted titmouse. Thistle seed in a tube feeder is a favorite of gold finches, purple finches, house finches, chickadees and a variety of sparrows.

Cage-style suet feeders hold square cakes of "rendered" suet, which is processed to kill bacteria. Suet attracts chickadees, nuthatches, brown creepers, woodpeckers, wrens and cardinals. Suet should be hung high enough so that dogs, cats and other animals cannot reach it.

Attracting and feeding birds awakens a lifeless yard, porch or patio. The brief, gray days of autumn and winter brighten with the addition of song, color and activity. By providing for the needs of these active and delicate visitors, you bring the natural world a little closer to home.

Nature Notes for 12/21/2008