Bird Feeding in Winter

Bird Feeding in Winter: 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.


    Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Audio: Contains bird audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
    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,

    Winter Song Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Feb 3, 2009,

    Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding, Steve Kress, Audubon Magazine, Nov-Dec, 2010,

    Backyard Birding, Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: February 19, 2016,

    Backyard Birding, Helping our Feathered Friends, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: June 1, 2016,

    Backyard Bird-Feeding Resources, Birds at Your Feeder, Erica H. Dunn, Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes, Project Feederwatch,


    Composting: Compost Product Courtesy NRCS USDA Analia Bertucci, Photographer
    Compost Product
    Courtesy NRCS USDA
    Analia Bertucci, Photographer
    Autumn leaves are beginning to fall. Trees drop their leaves because of reductions in temperature, sunlight, and moisture. And if the leaves remained on deciduous trees during winter months, the added weight of snow could break entire branches down. So many people will be outside raking leaves off their lawns.

    The simple thing to do is to throw all of it into the trash can. But that causes two problems: First, it is an unnecessary addition to landfills. But it is also a waste of natural products that can be used in gardens and fields. The best thing to do is to compost it to use next Spring and Summer. Of course, you can always purchase organic mulch from garden centers, but making your own is free and builds a sense of accomplishment.

    So what is composting and how is it done?

    Composting is a method to reduce trash in our landfills by allowing natural processes to help decompose plant materials into useful, natural products. Nature has been doing this since plants were first on Earth. And clever gardeners and farmers use that natural process to make rich, organic soils.

    We’ve covered the “what and why” questions.
    “How” to compost comes next.

    1. Collect brown, carbon-based materials such as dead leaves, tea and coffee grounds, wood chips, shredded paper, nut shells, etc.
    2. Add green-waste materials such as fruit peels, grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and garden waste to help in nitrogen production.
    3. Add water every week to hasten the breakdown of those materials.
    4. Build your compost pile no larger than 3’ wide, 3’ long, and 3’ high. And place it in a shady spot in your yard with easy access to a hose.
    5. This material can be placed in ready-made bins you can purchase, or you can build a simple square one out of old wood and chicken wire, or use the corner of your fence. I’m using an unoccupied dog kennel.
    6. The mixture is important. You should have 3 parts brown matter for every one part green matter.
    7. To speed up decomposition, mix the materials weekly with a shovel or pitchfork. During cold weather you may see steam coming from the pile. That’s a good sign.
    8. Now the best part. If you compost during warm weather, it can be ready to add to your lawn or garden in 1 to 3 months.

    And it’s important that you do NOT add animal products like meats, dairy, pet waste and eggs. These are the things that will attract flies and create bad odors.

    So, avoid adding to our landfills. Build a compost pile and enjoy free supplements to produce beautiful gardens, flower beds, and lawns.

    This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.

    Images: Courtesy
    Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Liberatore, Andrea, Natures Recyclers, Wild About Utah, November 11, 2011,

    Liberatore, Andrea, Earthworms, Wild About Utah, May 9, 2011,

    Farrell-Poe, Kitt, Koenig, Rich, Backyard Composting in Utah, (Reviewed October 2011 by Michael Johnson)

    Basic Composting, USU Extension,

    Young, Janice, Composting 101, Master Gardener Program, Thanksgiving Point,

    Compost Fundamentals, WhatCom County Composting, Washington State University, WhatCom County Extension,


    Wildfires: Smoke roils from 2012 wildfire in Utah. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
    Smoke roils from 2012 wildfire in Utah. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
    Wildfires hit record highs this year in the Western U.S. There can be arguments blaming Climate Change or Forest Management. Were they caused by human carelessness or natural causes such as lightning? Take your pick. But the results were tragic.

    Through August this year, Utah has had nearly 1,300 fires which burned nearly a quarter million acres and cost $100 million dollars.

    Nationally, 90% of wildfires are human-caused from unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes, mismanaged debris fires and planned acts of arson. And the cost of those fires exceeded $5 billion dollars over the last 10 years. From January to August in 2018 there were nearly 39,000 different fires that burned over 5 million acres.

    Much has been said about those tragic statistics that affect the loss of human life, the destruction of developed properties, the discomforts of evacuations, and the enormous costs and dangers of fighting fires as the horrible results of these runaway infernos. But, what about next year? Will the drought continue? Will the climate continue to set record temperatures?

    Burned Stumps & Ashes Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Photographer
    Burned Stumps & Ashes
    Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Photographer
    One of the consequences that has not been discussed much is the loss of millions of trees. What can we expect when living trees are turned into burned stumps and ashes?

    The major greenhouse gas in our atmosphere is Carbon Dioxide. It is called a green house gas because it warms the earth’s temperature. Carbon dioxide is produced by the burning of fossil fuels or trees, chemical reactions such as the manufacture of cement, and the exhaling of animals. It is removed from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by land-plants and the ocean as part of the biological carbon cycle. The role the ocean plays in the carbon cycle is a topic for another program.

    It is the loss of trees that we will consider now.
    I will mention only a few of the many benefits trees provide.

    You may recall from biology class that the trees take-in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Forest fires require oxygen to burn, and we require oxygen to live. This year, we have already lost 5 million acres of oxygen production.

    There are trees, such as the Lodgepole Pine, which have serotinous cones which release their seeds during the intense heat of forest fires. But it will take 40 years for those seeds to
    grow into mature trees.

    Another consideration is the loss of trees along hillsides and mountain slopes. When rain or snow hits those barren areas there can be massive soil erosion. This not only pollutes the streams and rivers below, but eliminates the top layer of soil where new seeds would best survive.

    Besides the loss of human homes, there is the loss of wildlife habitat to consider. IF animals were able to escape massive fires, they must then find suitable habitat, which may encroach on human developments.

    Then there is the loss of shade. Barren land will be more susceptible to collecting heat from the sun’s rays, which then will cause more heating of the atmosphere.

    So, what can we do about this? First, be extremely careful with fire; Second, plant trees in your communities; Third, contact your local Ranger District or U.S. Forest Service to see if you can volunteer in tree planting projects.

    This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.

    Images: Courtesy USDA Forest Service,
    Audio: Contains audio courtesy, Sound provided by Dynamicell
    Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    USDA Forest Service Offices:
    Region 4: Intermountain Region
    Federal Building
    324 25th Street
    Ogden, UT 84401
    [Job & Volunteering] Connections,
    Volunteer Opportunities,

    Volunteer, TreeUtah,

    Outka-Perkins, Lisa, Welcome to the Forest Service: A Guide for Volunteers, USDA Forest Service, Feb 2009,

    Boling, Josh, Fire, Wild About Utah, August 13, 2018,

    Strand, Holly, Investigating the Causes of Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Aug 15, 2013,

    Larese-Casanova, Mark, Wildfires in Utah, Wild About Utah, July 26, 2012,

    Preparing Home and Property for Wildlife, A Proactive Approach, Utah Living With Fire, Salt Lake City, UT,

    Invasive Species

    Teaching About Invasive Species Used by permission, Tim Grant, author & publisher
    Teaching About Invasive Species Used by permission, Tim Grant, author & publisher
    Exotic invasive species. “Exotic”, sounds rather alluring, but “invasive” implies something completely different and undesirable.

    Basically, we are referring to any species that is not native to that ecosystem, it can survive and reproduce there, and by its introduction can cause harm to the environment, the economy, wildlife, and human health. And this doesn’t mean just plants. There are also invasive animals and even microorganisms that can disrupt the balance that maintains natural ecosystems.

    They usually have some means of dominance over native species, such as superior reproduction or faster growth success. They may also have unique forms of defense against native predators. Being newly introduced to an area, they may not even have any competition from similar species, or natural predators may not exist in their new area at all. Their advantages can outcompete native species at alarming rates and result in a reduction, or elimination, of biodiversity in huge areas. And research has proven that having a diversity of native life forms improves the health of ecosystems.

    Organizations dealing with agriculture, forestry, fisheries, wildlife and waterways estimate that the annual costs to try to control invasive species in our country exceeds $120 billion dollars. And, whether you are a supporter of the Endangered Species Act or not, a quote from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service states “More than 400 of the over 1,300 species currently protected under the Endangered Species Act,…..are considered to be at risk at least partly due to displacement by, competition with, and predation by invasive species.”

    In Utah, there are 596 invasive plant species, 28 invasive insects, and a few mammals too. I’ll simply mention a few and why they are so problematic: In the water we are plagued with Quagga and Zebra Mussels, Carp , and plants like Purple Loosestrife. One adult Zebra Mussel can produce one million larvae that mature in one year.

    Africanized Honeybees have been sneaking into our State, and they can be very aggressive.
    Some of the more common invasive plants include: Russian Olive,
    Field bindweed, Dyer’s Woad, Russian and Canada thistle, Stinging Nettle, Tamarisk, …..even Kentucky Bluegrass is on the list. The yellow Dyer’s Woad plant that covers many of our hillside grazing lands, is prolific and may produce 10,000 seeds per plant

    The European Starling and English House Sparrow are two birds that don’t belong here, but have been extremely successful by inhabiting all 50 States and occupy nesting sites and deplete food sources of our native American songbirds.

    Mammals include the Red Fox, Muskrat, White-tailed Deer (which might excite some hunters), and the adorable Raccoon which may be one of the best examples of the problems invasive species can cause. Raccoons can damage homes, fruit trees, and gardens, kill chickens, cats, migratory birds, pheasants, ducks, quail and grouse. They can also spread disease to other mammals as they eat out of garbage cans, carry fleas, ticks, lice, distemper, mange, and blood tests have shown that 80% of them have been exposed to rabies as indicated by the presence of a rabies titer.

    For more information, search online for the topic of interest, plus Utah State University. Or get the book “Teaching About Invasive Species” edited by Tim Grant.

    This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.

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

    Additional Reading

    Leavitt, Shauna, The Invasive Phragmites,