Published on December 28, 2011 | by Rachel Hunziker3
For the Birds Part I
Wintertime for most of North America can prove to be a difficult time and the living is not always easy, especially if you are a bird. Days are often windy and cold and nights are long and even colder. Much of the vegetation has withered or been consumed, and most insects have become dormant or died. Finding adequate food can be challenging for birds, especially on extremely cold days.
If you had to choose just one season to feed the birds, winter would be the most beneficial
During the spring and summer months, most songbirds eat insects and spiders, which are abundant and highly nutritious and, for the most part, easily caputured. During the fall and winter, nonmigratory songbirds shift their diets to fruits and seeds to survive, which is why it’s important to feed birds in the winter.
If you had to choose just one season to feed the birds, winter would be the most beneficial. Winter feeding is crucial for a bird’s survival.
Why winter feeding is so important:
- Some birds require 2-3 days of constant feeding to build up their fat reserve before migration. Fat = Fuel!
- Insects are scarce in the winter, so many birds need to find other food sources to survive.
- Trees that are normally filled with berries and nuts in the summer and fall are nearly bare in the winter. Birds often have to compete with squirrels, raccoons, and other types of wildlife for this type of food.
- Birds need to sustain a high metabolism in order to produce heat to stay warm in the winter elements.
So what types of food do you use to feed the birds? Black-oil sunflower seeds is a favorite amongst many birds and also tends to attract the largest number of birds including blackbirds, blue jays, cowbirds, cardinals, grackles, finches, evening grosbeaks, sparrows, and titmice. These seeds have a high meat-to-shell ratio and the high caloric content helps to build the bird’s fat reserves. The seeds are also small in size, and the thin shells make them easy for small birds to handle and crack open.
Although sunflower seed is the overall favorite, some birds prefer other seeds as well. Doves prefer corn, milo, and millet, while blackbirds like corn. You can attract insect-eating birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers to your yard by offering suet or peanut butter. Birds appreciate these high-energy foods, especially in the cold climates. Some people worry that birds can choke on the sticky peanut butter, but there is no evidence of this actually occurring. However, if you are concerned about this, you can eliminate the risk by mixing the peanut butter with cornmeal or oatmeal.
Black-oil sunflower seeds is a favorite amongst many birds
As far as seeds are concerned, you do not have to limit your offering to commercial birdseed only. You can save seeds from melons, squash, and pumpkins. This is a great way to put to use the pumpkin seeds from Halloween. Some birds even relish these seeds more than black-oil sunflower seeds. Spread them out on trays to air dry before placing them in your feeders or on the ground. Please be aware that smaller birds tend to have a hard time breaking open these vegetable seeds, so you may need to run them through a food processor first. This will allow the little birds to be able to eat them with ease.
Seeds and suet are not the only foods that can be provided for birds during winter. Robins, blue-birds, thrushes, and waxwings don’t typically show up to bird feeders because seeds and suet are not a major component of their diet. These birds, along with woodpeckers, starlings, grackles, blue jays, sparrows, and cardinals, all enjoy fruit as their meal option. Dried raisins, currants, sliced apples, oranges, and other fresh or frozen berries will tempt these birds to dine at your feeders. You can offer the fruit on a plate or a shallow bowl and set it on a platform feeder or even on the ground.
Providing a dependable supply of fresh water will attract many birds to your yard including those that wouldn’t normally visit feeders
Don’t forget about water! Many people wouldn’t give this much thought as water seems to be plentiful in the winter with all the snow. Birds do drink and bathe in the snow or from dripping icicles, however, unfrozen water can be as hard to find during the winter as food. Providing a dependable supply of fresh water will attract many birds to your yard including those that wouldn’t normally visit feeders. Caution should be used during times of extreme cold as wet feathers can instantly freeze.
There are many ways to provide water to birds in the wintertime. A shallow, easy-to-clean birdbath is the best. An upside down garbage can lid or a large frying pan also works well. If you want to go the extra mile, you can emulate a natural puddle by digging a shallow hole in the ground and lining it with plastic before filling it with water. You may want to consider buying an immersion-style water heater to keep your birdbath from freezing. However, it is recommended that you turn the heater off when the temperature falls into the teens or lower. This will prevent birds from freezing their feathers.