In the past, I have put out salt blocks for the deer to use in winter, but then I learned that other animals will use them as well. I have seen squirrels and rabbits licking at the blocks and chipmunks in their vicinity, but I was most surprised when I first saw purple finches (Haemorhous purpureus) pecking away at them.
At first, I thought this was abnormal or unusual but a specialist with the Audubon Society/North Carolina wildlife department told me that finches and other bird species will do this regularly to obtain salt when it is lacking from their diet. They also use the salt to help clean out their gizzards (an organ behind the stomach that helps break down seeds and food so that the bird can digest it more easily).
Apparently, mourning doves, sparrows, grosbeaks, pine siskins, goldfinches, house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) and purple finches (like those in the photos) will all peck at salt blocks. So far, I have only seen the purple and house finches doing it.
Sometimes, they have had mini-gatherings there, making the salt block a place for socializing!
Balancing on the block can also involve some acrobatics.
It’s nice to have something to offer them besides suet, bird seed and bird baths.
Next week’s blog: acrobatic squirrels