Winter Blahs? Let’s Feed the Birds!

Male Red-breasted Nuthatch By Daniel Novak

Feeding and watching birds in the summer, spring and fall can be an enjoyable family pursuit and winter should be no different. While many of the birds we often see at other times of year travel to warmer climates for the winter a few hardy souls remain. Inasmuch as feeding can attract a plethora of birds for our viewing enjoyment it can actually be integral in seeing our feathered friends through a tough time of year when other food sources may be scarce or absent. Here are a few basic winter bird feeding tips that will keep birds happy and coming back day after day.

Species of Birds

The types of birds one can expect to encounter during the winter months depends on a number of factors including climate, geography, region and even the landscape of a yard.

Some common winter species include:

  • House Finches
  • House Sparrows
  • Nuthatches
  • Tufted Titmice
  • American Goldfinches
  • Pine Siskins
  • Common Redpolls
  • Black-capped Chickadees
  • Dark-eyed Juncos
  • Steller’s Jays
  • Blue Jays

But this is part of the fun of bird watching at any time of year. We never know just what we might encounter on any given day, so keep your eyes peeled for that rare species you would never expect to see!

Feeders

The ideal bird feeder is sturdy enough to withstand harsh winter weather, tight enough to ensure seeds stay dry, has a large enough capacity so filling occurs less frequently, and easy to assemble and clean (plastic or metal feeders are generally easier to keep clean than wooden feeders.)

Be they decorative or simple it is important to have a number of different feeders available, as each attracts different types of birds and has advantages and disadvantages.

Some common feeder styles include:Scorpion0422 at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

  • Tray or platform
  • House or hopper
  • Tube or cylinder
  • Suet cage/container

Situate feeders close together, at varying heights (for different species) and in sheltered locations as out of the wind as possible, preferably near protective cover such as evergreens, hedges, overgrown tomato cages in gardens, tall uncut sunflowers, brush piles, etc. (though not too close, as these locales are also good ambush spots for bird-loving predators like cats!) These spots are all lifted off the ground and can also allow for hiding and roosting places when the birds are finished eating.

While we understand the importance of providing a much-needed food source throughout the winter the primary reason we feed birds is to observe them. Therefore, position feeders to allow for easier viewing within the warmth of the house though do so no further than five feet away from a wall or window, as this will minimize window collisions.

Of course with winter comes snow. After storms make sure feeders, platforms and perches are free of snow and use baffles (cone-shaped barriers) on feeders to prevent unwanted visitors (like squirrels) from pilfering the bird food (and they will and quickly too!) Also, stamp or shovel snow around feeders to provide easier access to spilled seed for ground feeders.

Keep the feeders full and be consistent in feeding. Even a minor lapse can send birds looking for other food sources, thereby negating your viewing opportunities until which time you can draw the flocks back. Also make sure that the feeders are clean and that the contents are dry and free of mold or mildew.

Food

Varying in price from seed to seed, the best foods to provide for winter feeders are those which are high in fat and energy content. Birds do not store a great deal of fat on their bodies so it is crucial they re-up their fuel supplies each day, especially in severe weather when they cannot go more than about 24 hours without eating.

Some common bird feed includes:

  • Black oil sunflower seeds (high energy)
  • Hulled peanuts
  • Nyger seeds
  • White millet seeds
  • Safflower seeds
  • Suet (not strictly seed but a combination of seed and animal fat; very high energy)

By fishhawk (First customer  Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsChoose birdseed and other foods based on which bird species are present in winter in your neck of the woods and what foods they prefer. And a word to the wise: stay away from mixed birdseeds, as they contain a lot of filler that most birds simply will not eat and will only end up wasted on the ground.

Additionally, make sure your seed is stored in a cool, dry place in a sealable container away from other critters like mice and squirrels.

Water

While providing fresh water for birds during the freezing winter months can be a difficult proposition it is vital to their survival, especially during the winter season when fresh water can be scarce. Bird baths with heating elements incorporated into their design can be an effective way of seeing that birds have an ample supply of water. Simply leaving a pan of water out on warmer days can be another option as well.

By following these easy suggestions the joy of bird watching can be a year ‘round activity and can brighten up even the dreariest of winter days. So happy birding and happy winter!

Copyright 2012 Daniel Novak

Daniel Novak is a lover of gardening and planting, art and design, cooking and spending time in his backyard oasis. He is currently a freelance writer for the outdoor garden decor site avantgardendecor.com.  In his free time, Daniel enjoys attending garden shows, farmer’s markets, wildlife viewing and watching baseball.

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