Old Man Winter’s arrival is good news for skiers, sledders, snowmobilers, and children hoping for snow days to liberate them from school, but it’s not such good news for the local bird population.
Birds must hunt harder and fly farther to fulfill their nutritional needs during the winter months. When the landscape is buried beneath a blanket of snow and ice, foraging becomes even more of a challenge. Why not ease their burden by creating a bird-feeding sanctuary in your own back yard?
Given time and a predictable food source, strikingly colorful cardinals, blue jays, and goldfinches will hone in on your feeder and make it a regular stop on their foraging rounds. Granted, the goldfinches will be sporting their somber winter coloration at this time of year, but they’re real “show stoppers” in the summer months. Eventually, you’ll also be blessed by regular visits from such feathered songsters as the black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, and tufted titmouse.
Which seeds should you feed?
The easiest way to feed a varied assortment of birds is to buy the inexpensive seed blends sold in large sacks at any feed store. However, most of the birds will pick through the mix to get to the tastier tidbits, casting aside the cracked corn and millet that usually make up a significant percentage of these mixes. Black oilers are small, easy to crack, and seem to satisfy the palate of almost all seed-eating birds. The harder-to-crack striper sunflower seeds are popular with larger birds like blue jays. Safflower is a favorite of our state bird, the cardinal. Finches are especially fond of thistle and will painstakingly pick it out from the rest of the seeds and grains in the mix.
Don’t spare the suet!
Woodpeckers—e.g., the local downy, hairy, and red-bellied varieties—are among the more welcome visitors to bird feeding stations. But they generally can’t be plied with mere birdseed. Woodpeckers are primarily insectivores and require a source of oil and fat. This can be provided by setting out a suet feeder—commonly available in the form of a rectangular, plastic-coated wire basket designed to hold a block of preformed suet. You can buy the suet cakes, either plain or impregnated with food items, such as seeds, peanuts, or fruit, at any feed store. Suet has a very high caloric content, which helps maintain birds’ high metabolism and helps to keep them warm.
Other necessities of life
A successful bird-feeding sanctuary should provide more than just seed, suet, and fruit. Fresh water and shelter are equally important. If these needs are ignored, birds might just pass your feeder by in search of more favorable accommodations. Providing water is easy enough. Put out a birdbath or any shallow vessel capable of withstanding the temperature extremes of our local winters, and place a thermostatically controlled birdbath heater in it to prevent the water from freezing.
Once you make the commitment to feed the birds, don’t fall into the habit of on-again-off-again feeding. It can be very stressful for birds to make the effort to reach your feeding station, which they’ve learned to associate with sustenance, only to discover that the feeder is empty and the birdbath is dry. If you fill the feeder whenever it starts to get low and make sure the water is clean, fresh, and unfrozen, your feathered friends will reward you with their beauty and song all year long. ❦