FEEDING WINTER BIRDS

Julie Articles

bird in winter

HOW TO TURN YOUR YARD INTO A DINER

One of my family’s biggest pleasures during the cold, gray days of winter is watching our feathered friends congregate at our bird feeder.  Watching sparrows, doves, cardinals, nut hatches and the occassional rarer species dine together in harmony reinforces my belief that people should take a few lessons from the animals when it comes to peacefully co-existing together!  Even the occassional squirrel is not viewed as an intruder, but as a helpful presence since he knocks seed to the ground making it easier for the ground-feeding birds to get to.

WHAT TYPE OF FEEDER TO USE?

You can make simple tray or dish feeders using pie-plates with raised edges all around to keep the food from blowing away.  You may want to add  hanging cylinders – empty onion sacks are ideal – for suet (the discarded fat from butcher shops and supermarket meat counters which is very inexpensive or sometimes even free).   You can also use the ground as a feeder because some species of birds, mourning doves for instance, are strictly ground feeders.  And, of course, there are a myriad of types and styles of ready-made feeders available for purchase.

WHERE TO PLACE THE FEEDER?

The placement of any of these feeders is key to attracting our feathered friends.  They will visit feeders placed close to branches of trees and shrubs, particularly evergreens, more readily than feeders placed in the open.  Such open feeders tend to expose them to the elements and the dangers of predators like cats and hawks.  If possible, select a sunny location.  Birds prefer to feed in the warmth of the sun and out of the wind.  If you don’t have a natural cover, you can use an old Christmas tree or put together a brush pile.

Water is also an effective magnet for attracting birds all year round – for both drinking and bathing.  They prefer water located on or near the ground, as it would be found naturally.  Pie plates and store-bought bird baths will do nicely.   It’s hard to provide unfrozen water in the winter in many areas of our country, but it can be done by frequently replenishing it.  One warning – do not use glycerine to keep water from freezing as it causes severe feather damage and destroys their growth insulation.

WHAT TO PUT IN YOUR FEEDERS?

In addition to the aforementioned suet, a  bag of all-purpose mixed wild bird seed will do quite well.  Most of the commercial seed mixes contain millet and other small seeds, cracked corn and sunflower seeds.  You may want to add at least one hanging feeder filled with sun flower seeds – they’re especially rich and highly attractive to chickadees, nut hatches, gross beaks, cardinals, and house finches.

How about feeding birds from the pond such as ducks and geese?  Experts don’t recommend feeding them bread – it’s of little nutritional value.  Instead, use poultry pellets which can be purchased at feed stores.  If  you insist on using bread, be sure it’s whole wheat.

WINTER FEEDING – AN ON-GOING RESPONSIBILITY

Once the birds get used to the food being in your yard, it’s important to keep up with it.  Birds will become dependent on your winter feeding station.  Interruptions in their food supply, particularly during bad weather, will cause needless hardship and even death.  If you’re going to be away, leave extra food or ask a neighbor to check the feeders.

It’s also very important to remember that birds especially need food early in the morning –  after the long cold night, and during the coldest and shortest days of the year.  Be sure the feeders are checked and replenished before you go to bed.

When is it safe for you to discontinue feeding?  Generally speaking, after natural supplies of food begin to reappear – usually by late March or the beginning of April.  In fact, it’s best not to feed all year long.  Birds need other nutrition after being fed the same menu all winter.

By following these simple suggestions, you, too, can enjoy our feathered friends and feel good knowing that you’re making the winter a little easier for them!