Winter Bird Feeding

A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds. Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds.
Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
Most people enjoy watching birds, except for their occasional deposits on cars or windows. In an earlier program, I mentioned at least fifteen benefits that birds provide to humans and planet Earth. But as human population and developments increase, the survival of many bird species becomes threatened. Now, as winter approaches, colder weather and lack of food adds to the life-threatening dilemmas birds face. Some birds migrate to warmer habitats, but for those that stay in the northern regions a helping-hand from humans is no doubt appreciated.

Presenting “gifts” of birdfeeders and seeds to others (and your own family) will help songbirds and fowls to survive so they can provide their songs and beauty in the Spring. Consider these tips:

  • Buy large birdfeeders so you don’t have to fill them so often. Wet seed can grow harmful bacteria, so use feeders with wide covers.
  • If deer, or other pests, invade your feeders, hang them up higher in trees.
  • Place feeders 10’ away from dense cover to prevent sneak attacks from cats.
  • Provide multiple feeders to increase amounts and diversity of foods.
  • “Favorite” winter foods depends on the species. Black Oil sunflower seeds are loved by most birds, but niger, millet, peanuts, corn, and wheat will attract a diverse range of birds. Experiment and see what comes to your feeders.
  • A combination of beef-fat, with seeds or fruit, is called suet. It is a high-energy food which helps birds stay warm. The 4” cakes are placed in small cages and are loved by flickers, woodpeckers and many other birds. Peanut butter is also relished by birds, but is more expensive than suet.
  • Once birds find your feeders, they will rely on them for regular food supplies. If your feeders become empty, especially during ice storms or blizzards, birds will have a hard time finding natural food. If you take a trip, have a neighbor keep your feeders filled.
  • Buy extra seed and store it in a cool, dry place like a covered plastic trash can which can be kept on a deck, porch, or in a garage.
  • Make sure the feeders are kept clean with hot water, and then dried, about once a month.
  • Some birds, like juncos, towhees, doves and pheasants prefer eating seed which has fallen to the ground. Compact the snow below your feeders so they can find that seed easier.
  • Unless you live near a natural water source, place a pan of water near a feeder on warmer days. Or you could consider a heated bird bath to provide drinking water.
  • If you have fruit trees or berry bushes, leave some of the fruit on the plants to provide natural foods.
  • You may wish to leave birdhouses and nest-boxes up all year for winter roosting sites.
  • Now the fun part comes. After your feeders have been discovered by some birds, word soon gets around the neighborhood and others will arrive. But do you know what they are? The Peterson Field Guidebooks are a great help for beginners because the illustrations are often grouped by color. Then you can become a citizen-scientist and submit your observations to Cornell’s Project Feederwatch or participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count each December. Look online for details.

    Time to get started with your own feeders, or as gifts to others, and begin enjoying the colorful company of finches, woodpeckers, towhees, juncos, sparrows, doves and many others.

    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Feed the Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Dec 1, 2011, http://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Winter Song Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Feb 3, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding, Steve Kress, Audubon Magazine, Nov-Dec, 2010, http://www.audubon.org/magazine/november-december-2010/audubon-guide-winter-bird-feeding

    Backyard Birding, Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: February 19, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/bird-feeding.php

    Backyard Birding, Helping our Feathered Friends, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: June 1, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/songbird-conservation.php

    Backyard Bird-Feeding Resources, Birds at Your Feeder, Erica H. Dunn, Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes, Project Feederwatch, https://feederwatch.org/learn/articles/backyard-bird-feeding-resources/

    Feed the Birds

    Pine Siskins and an
    American Goldfinch feed
    feed on thistle from a sock feeder
    Copyright © 2008 Jim Cane

    Hopper Feeder
    Copyright © 2008 Jim Cane

    Hopper Feeder with Squirrel
    Copyright © 2008 Jim Cane

    Suet Feeder
    Copyright © 2008 Jim Cane

    Many of our songbirds have flown south to spend the winter. I confess that on frigid days I envy them. Like you and I, though, many birds remain behind. They fluff their feathers to trap body heat and spend these short days in a perpetual hunt for food to keep them warm. You can help their hungry quest by feeding our diverse songbirds using a convenient birdfeeder.

    For loose seed, I use a hopper feeder. The hopper resembles a tiny roofed house which is filled with seed that is dispensed from a trough at its base. Another common style of seed feeder is a broad tray. It will need a roof and drain holes to keep the seed dry and free of mold.

    (Kevin Colver: Birds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills. Dark-eyed Junco)

    Our feeder is above a stone walkway for birds like juncos that prefer seed spilled on the ground. A ring of upturned tomato cages around this area excludes cats, and the season’s discarded Christmas tree will provide cover for the birds.

    (Kevin Colver: Birds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills. Black-capped Chickadee)

    Chickadees and finches prefer black oil sunflower seed, rich in fats and proteins, with a thin shell. If you buy seed mixes, juncos and sparrows will take white millet, but milo or so-called red millet is a filler. Doves and jays like cracked corn.

    (Kevin Colver: Songbirds of Yellowstone. Pine Siskin)

    Goldfinches and pine siskins flock to Niger thistle seed dispensed from a fine mesh sock that you can buy where you purchase the seed. Woodpeckers and nuthatches appreciate a suet feeder, which is a wire mesh cage containing a block of seed-filled suet. Expect magpies to hammer chunks off the suet block occasionally.

    Don’t forget water, a scarce commodity for birds in winter. Plug in models remain ice free with scant power use.

    Nothing quite cheers a wintry day for me like colorful songbirds noisily bustling at our feeders. If you do put up feeders, consider joining in Project Feeder Watch. You can find details on our Wild About Utah website.

    Credits:

    Photo: Courtesy & Copyright 2008 Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society, www.bridgerlandaudubon.org
    Text: Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

    Bird Recordings Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Kevin Colver,7loons.com & WildSanctuary, Soundscapes, http://www.wildsanctuary.mobi
    /buy/index.php?route=product/category&path=40

    Additional Reading:

    Backyard Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service, http://library.fws.gov/Bird_Publications/feed.html

    Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/

    How to Attract Birds to your Yard, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.allaboutbirds.org/Page.aspx?pid=1138

    The Great Backyard Bird Count, Birdsource.org, http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/

    Creating landscapes for Wildlife — A Guide for Backyards in Utah, A production of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service & Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10215