Welcome back, and Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday – Hello 2020! Today I want to talk to you about something that’s actually very important this time of year – bird feeding.
I know what you’re thinking. “Bird feeding? In January? Don’t birds usually fly south for the winter?” The answer to your question is, not all of them! There are plenty of varieties of birds in our area that stay right where they are in the winter, and when they do it can be really hard for them to find food. Between the lack of available growth for them to pick at as the ground freezes over and trees go dormant, and the fact that people don’t think to put out bird feeders in the winter, it can be a very difficult and dangerous time for local birds.
The good news is, the second of those factors is one we can all do something about! Bird feeding is actually not that difficult, and it can be a very rewarding and fulfilling activity. Wouldn’t it be lovely to see a bright red cardinal outside of your window on a chilly winter morning, against a backdrop of snow?
Here are a few bird feeding tips to get you started!
If you want more nature and gardening tips, plus other ideas for seasonal decorations and DIY projects, check out the Outdoors section of my blog!
Bird Feeding Basics
To begin with, you’re going to need to get a bird feeder. You may be picturing a basic birdhouse, and while those are an adorable option, they’re not the only one out there. The National Wildlife Federation writes very well about all of the different types of bird feeders there are to choose from, but here’s what they have to say about a few of the simplest ones that are best for the birds commonly found in our area:
- House or Hopper feeders are a common feeder type comprised of a platform in with walls and a small roof surrounding the seed.
- Tube feeders are another commonly used type of feeder. They hold seeds in a central, refillable tube, and either have holes with perches along their length or deposit the seeds onto a lower tray.
- Tray or platform feeders are flat feeders usually elevated on a pole that provide a platform on which the birds can gather and pick through the seed. There are ground versions too.
- You can also get a window feeder – these are smaller feeders that can be secured to the outside of a window by suction cups. They let you look at birds more closely while they feed, but you should note that you might see fewer of them – birds are more reticent to approach homes to feed, as large standing structures like that do not occur in nature.
If you want more than one feeder, like a station with a bunch of different kinds of feed, make sure that those feeding stations are spread out enough that the birds have space. You won’t get as many birds as you’re hoping for if they’re afraid they’ll run into each other when they swoop in.
Also, if you’re worried about squirrels eating all the food before the birds can get to it – which is, of course, something that can happen – don’t worry, they make squirrel-proof feeders as well. There are also several other things you can do to outwit your birdfeed-stealing backyard squirrels.
Also, remember to clean your bird feeder if it starts to look a little grimy – birds aren’t any more likely to approach a clean feeder, but since food sources are so scarce in the winter, it’s likely to get grimy faster than it would at any other time. It’s not difficult, though: just wash them with hot water and dry them before putting them back out.
Other than that, bird feeding is a very simple and enjoyable hobby. All that’s really left to discuss is how to pick out the food – plus a few other helpful pointers.
Bird Feeding Do’s and Don’ts
DON’T put the bird feeder right next to your house (unless it’s a window feeder). As explained above, you won’t see as many birds this way, because many birds will be afraid to approach the structure.
DON’T place your feeder in an area that is too densely wooded either – when birds approach a feeder, what they like to do is swoop down from a nearby base, like a tree branch, to get to the feeder. They can’t do this if there is too much other foliage in the way.
Therefore, DO place your bird feeders in open areas, but close enough to a tree or bush that the birds will have something to return to. If you want to have multiple feeders, DO spread them out; you’ll see more birds this way.
DON’T put out bread crumbs or other carb-heavy feed. This can actually seriously damage the bird population. The problem with foods like these is that they lack nutritional value for the birds, so the birds eat them, fill up on them, and then they don’t have room for any foods with the protein, vitamins, or fat their bodies need to function, so they die from malnutrition.
So, instead, DO put out nutrient rich foods that birds love, like seeds, nuts, corn, millet, and even peanut butter or pieces of apples and oranges. You can do more research and find out which types of feed are most likely to attract the species of bird you most want to see.
Perhaps the kindest thing you can DO for your birds in the winter, however, is put out suet. Suet is basically a cake of congealed fat, sometimes with things like seed or corn mixed in. It’s one of the best things for birds, because fat-heavy foods will help them keep warm in the cold winter months. You do need a special feeder to put it out, but as far as kindness to your local birds goes, it’s well worth it.
Finally DON’T start a bird feeding hobby in the winter and then just stop halfway through. Since food is so difficult for birds to come by this time of year, once they know your feeders are a reliable source, they will come to depend on them to survive. So once you begin, stick with it, at least until the ground thaws and the leaves on the trees start to come back.
Birds Local to Our Area
Here are some of the birds you might get to see if you start bird feeding now!
- Purple Finch
- House Sparrow
- Northern Cardinal
- House Finch
- American Goldfinch
- Tufted Titmouse
- Pine Siskin
- American Tree Sparrow
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Blue Jay