Although birds are well equipped to weather the winter storms our area can experience, you can provide help, and in the process, attract a colorful variety to your backyard.
Keep birds dry: while they dine. Consider adding a covered feeder or hanging baffle to your tube feeders. Not only will it help keep the squirrels out of your feeders, it can provide your birds some protection form the elements while they are eating.
Give birds a dry place to rest: Now may be a good time to investigate adding a nesting box to your backyard. In addition to providing a safe, comfortable place for the birds to raise their young, these houses can keep birds out of the wind and rain our winter weather brings.
Provide fresh water sources: As wet as our winters can be, it's still important to offer birds a source of fresh water for drinking and bathing. Fill a birdbath or add a mister to your backyard.
Offer varied food sources: Stock up on a variety of food your birds love. Think about providing suet, peanuts, and mealworms as supplements to one of the regular custom seed blends you normally feed your birds. Put out raisins to attract robins and mockingbirds.
Here are 10 favorite foods of birds:
- Homemade bird treats. Smear peanut butter on a tree trunk, and poke some peanut bits into it. Melt suet in your microwave, and pour it into an ice-cube tray to harden. Before it solidifies, add peanut bits, raisins, apple bits, or other bird foods.Put the tray in your freezer to harden. Once it Does, you've got cubed bird treats. Easy to make and easy to use!
- Fruit. Humans are supposed to eat at least three servings of fruit every day. Fruit is also an important dietary element for birds, but it can be hard to find in many areas in midwinter. Set out grapes, slices of citrus fruits, apple or banana slices, and even melon rinds, and watch your birds chow down. If you want to feed raisins,chop them up and soak them in warm water first to soften them up a bit. Offering fruit to tanagers and orioles is a traditional spring and summer feeding strategy, but many winter feeder birds will eat fruit, too.
- Mealworms. Most feeder birds, except
goldfinches, will eat mealworms if you offer them. Mealworms are available in bait stores, or by mail order. Don't worry, they aren't slimy and gross. You can keep 1,000 mealworms in a tub of old-fashioned rolled oats and feed them to the birds in a shallow ceramic dish. The dish has slippery sides so the worms can't crawl out.
- Cracked corn. Sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves, quail, and squirrels are just a few of the creatures you can expect at your feeders if you feed cracked corn. Depending on where you live you may also get turkeys, and deer. Fed in moderation, cracked corn will
attract almost any feeder species. Some feeder operators only use this food to lure the squirrels away from the bird feeders. Squirrels love corn-cracked. Whole corn that is still on the cob is not a good bird food because the kernels are too big and hard for most small birds to digest. Cracked corn is broken up into smaller, more manageable bits.
- Safflower. This white, thin-shelled, conical seed is eaten by many birds and has the reputation for being the favorite food of the northern cardinal. Some feeder operators claim that safflower seed is not as readily eaten by squirrels and blackbirds (caveat: your results may vary). Feed safflower in any feeder that can accommodate sunflower seed. Avoid feeding safflower on the ground in wet weather; it can quickly become soggy and inedible. You can buy safflower in bulk at seed and feed stores.
- Thistle seed. Though it can be
expensive, thistle seed is eagerly consumed by
all the small finches-goldfinches, house, purple, and
Cassin's finches, pine siskins, and redpolls. You need to
feed thistle in a thistle feeder of some kind-the two most
commonly used types of thistle feeder are a tube feeder with small thistle-seed-sized holes, and a thistle sock. A
thistle sock is a sock-shaped, fine-mesh synthetic bag that is filled with thistle seed. Small finches can cling to this bag and pull seeds out through the bag's mesh. Two potential problems with thistle: it can go rancid or moldy quickly in wet weather and uneaten seeds can germinate in your yard, creating a prickly patch of thistle plants. Fortunately, this problem does not seem to be widespread. All thistle seed is imported to North America, and it is all supposed to be sterilized prior to entry into this country.
- Good mixed seed. Is there such a thing as BAD
mixed seed? You bet! Bad mixed seed has lots of filler in
it-junk seeds that most birds won't eat. Bad mixed seed can include dyed seed meant for pet birds, wheat, and some forms of red milo that only birds in the Desert Southwest seem to eat. Good mixed seed has a large amount of sunflower seed, cracked corn, white proso millet, and perhaps some peanut hearts. The really cheap bags of mixed seed sold at grocery stores can contain the least useful seeds. Smart feeder operators buy mixed seed from a specialty bird store or a hardware/feed store operation. You can even buy the ingredients separately and create your own specialty mix.
- Suet. Most humans don't want a lot of fat in their diet, but for birds in winter, fat is an excellent source of energy. Ask at your grocery store butcher counter if you don't see packages of suet on display. No suet feeder? No problem-just use an old mesh onion bag. If you want to get fancy with your suet, you can render it. That is, melt it down to liquid, remove the unmeltable bits, and then allow it to harden; this is best accomplished in a microwave oven. Rendered suet lasts longer in hot weather, and while it's melted, you can add other ingredients to it (see "bird treats," #1).
- Peanuts. Peanuts-de-shelled, dry-roasted,
and unsalted-are bird-feeding's hot new trend, at least in
North America. In Europe, feeding peanuts has been popular
for a long time. Peanut manufacturers and processors have
now identified the bird-feeding market as a good place to
get rid of the peanuts that are broken or otherwise unfit
for human consumption. Ask your feed/seed retailer about
peanut bits or rejects. Several major feeder manufacturers
now produce sturdy, efficient tube-shaped peanut feeders.
Woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice will readily visit a feeder for this high-protein, high-energy food. Even cardinals and finches will eat peanuts.
- Black-oil sunflower seed. This seed is the
hamburger of the bird world. Almost any bird that will visit a bird feeder will eat black-oil sunflower. Birds that can't crack the seeds themselves will scour the ground under the feeders, picking up bits and pieces. Bird feeding in North America took a major leap forward when black-oil sunflower became widely available in the early 1980s. Why do birds prefer it? The outer shell of a black-oil sunflower seed is thinner and easier to crack. The kernel inside the shell is larger than the kernel inside a white-or gray-striped sunflower seed, so birds get more food per seed from black-oil. This last fact also makes black-oil a better value for you, the seed buyer. Striped sunflower is still fine (evening grosbeaks may even prefer it slightly), but black-oil is better.