Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Feed The Birds

Winter is upon us, and many species of birds have gone south for the winter months.
A Nuthatch just inches away from a kitchen window (photo: Gay Schroer)

Your backyard will not be devoid of birds, though. There are quite a few species of birds that spend the winter in the area, as well as northern migrants passing through, but surviving freezing temperatures requires a reliable, high energy food source. For those of you with bird feeders, here are some tips for feeding your backyard birds during the winter.

Birds have a higher metabolic rate than mammals.  To maintain this rate birds need to eat foods that are high in calories and fat. Three simple high calorie/high fat foods are perfect for feeding songbirds during the winter: oil sunflower seeds, suet, and peanuts. As the name suggests, oil sunflower seeds have a higher oil content than other sunflower seeds, giving them higher fat and protein amounts, and double the calories of other types of seeds. Furthermore, oil sunflower seeds are easier for the birds to eat because of the thinner, smaller shells.
A Catbird enjoying some suet (photo: Gay Schroer)

Suet is another popular winter bird food. Made largely of animal fat, suet is not often used in summer because it can melt in warmer temperatures and can become rancid, but this extremely fatty, high-energy food is perfect for the winter months. Many kinds of suet have other foods mixed into the fat, such as fruit, nuts, or birdseed. Since the ingredients are very simple, it is possible to make and mold your own suet if you do not wish to purchase it.
A Bluejay feeding on squirrel-proof hot pepper suet (photo: Gay Schroer)

Peanuts can also be mixed into suet, but are nutritious enough to be fed to birds as is. Whether shelled or whole, peanuts are a high protein, high fat food that will not freeze. Their large size, however, can make peanuts difficult for some of the smaller backyard birds to eat. To help them out, you can chop the peanuts up into smaller pieces. If you don’t have any peanuts, smearing dabs of peanut butter in a small dish or on the bark of a tree will work just as well. The drawback with peanuts is that they also attract squirrels. If you’d rather save the peanuts just for the birds, you might have to consider looking into squirrel-proofing your bird feeder, or purchasing a separate squirrel feeder.
Carolina Wrens feasting on tree nuts (photo: Gay Schroer)

Another food that has appeared on the market lately is marketed as tree nuts.  This is a mixture of various types of nuts, such as peanuts, cashews, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts and almonds.  The almonds do not seem to be particularly attractive to the birds, as they leave these until the very last.  This nut mixture is very popular with the Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Titmice, and many other backyard birds—as well as the squirrels.  These can be fed in peanut feeders and should be hung out of the reach of the squirrels.  They are a perfect food to be hung under the eaves of your house directly in front of your window for a really close-up view of birds which are normally only viewed from a distance. 
Even the Mockingbirds love the tree nuts (photo: Gay Schroer)

Other than food, you can help out your backyard birds in the winter by providing open water. Most birdbaths freeze over in the winter, but there are heating elements and heated birdbaths to prevent the water from freezing over.

Even though the summer months have come to an end, there is still plenty of bird watching to be done!  Place a few of these nutritious foods in your backyard, sit back with a steaming mug of hot chocolate, and enjoy the show

Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

1 comment:

Carolyn Morris said...

I learned a lesson 20+ years ago, while living in SW Wisconsin. Trying to be a responsible feeder of birds, I purchased a heated birdbath. After the weather turned frigid, a goldfinch froze to the shepherd's crook feeder pole after a trip to the birdbath. He was dead by the time I noticed him. I had to scrape his feet off the pole to release him. It wasn't long before I saw history repeating itself. This time the goldfinch was still alive. His feet were bloody and firmly attached to the pole. By cupping my gloved hand over his body and feet, I was able to thaw his feet loose. I held him long enough to check him over, then released him and watched him fly off with no issue. I immediately wrapped the pole with electrical tape, thanks to a suggestion from Wild Birds Unlimited where I'd bought the pole. That solved the problem.