Winter bird feeding

Courtesy photo

I would not go so far as to say I am an avid birder, I am not good at identifying birds other than the most obvious species or to say, “Oh, look at that pretty little yellow bird.”  Let’s just say I like pretty birds! 

I live in the country and it would probably be nice to have a couple of bird feeders just to see how many different little birds would show up, but…I have two cats (insert sad face) and therefore I don’t think that relationship would work out.

As a Master Gardener, by planting flowers, bushes and vegetables, it is only natural that birds and a few other wildlife species would show up to partake in the beauty and bounty of the landscape.  Other pollinators reap the benefits of the flowers and berries, so it seems reasonable that birds would also benefit from the leftover seeds and berries.

It can be a challenge for birds to find food in the winter and bird feeders are a great supplement to their natural foraging.  Most birds enjoy black-oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, nuts, dried fruit and suet.  Black-oil sunflower is a good source of fat, has a high meat to shell ratio and is easy to crack.  Cracked corn is an option if you are looking for no extra mess and something cost effective.  Nuts can be scattered whole or as broken pieces, they should be dry roasted, shelled and without salt.  Fruit can be dried, like raisins or currants, or offered fresh and served on a platform feeder or stuck on nails attached to a small board.  Suet is a mixture of fat (lard, beef fat or peanut butter) and seeds, typically offered in cakes as a high-energy treat.  Suet is used mostly during the winter, since the fat content will cause spoilage during the hot temperatures of summer.

Birds also need water during the winter months.  Most birds will drink out of a heated water dish or bird bath.  Remember to keep the water fresh.

 Bird feeders themselves come in many shapes and sizes.  There are specialty feeders for smaller birds that fancy thistle seeds or small seeds, and the more common hopper-type feeder that dispenses feed as the seed is eaten is a good option for a wide-variety of bird species.  Some gravity feed units with a platform are easy to clean and refill but will have some spillage, however this allows feeding for some of the ground feeding species.  I don’t think you can go wrong with what you choose, so choose what is appealing to you.  When choosing a location, pick a spot that will provide some protection for the feeder and the bird, but allows you to observe who is coming to dinner.

Maintaining a clean feeding environment is also important, as infectious disease can easily be spread among bird species.  Before refilling a feeder give it a good scrub with warm soapy water, dip in a 9:1 solution of water to bleach, rinse well and let dry before refilling with seed.

As with most things in nature you are also going to see some unexpected guests.  My mother-in-law has a few bird feeders and the squirrels LOVE the challenge of trying to get the seeds.  It is quite humorous to watch them stretch from the tree to the feeder or the miscalculation when they try to jump on the feeder, but they are too heavy!

Happy Bird Watching!

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