As discussed in a previous article, wild birds have high metabolisms which expend much energy in the process of maintaining proper body temperature in the winter (read: wild birds need alot of food to keep themselves warm in the winter). When choosing the type of food to feed your backyard birds, consider what type birds are present in your area in the winter and what foods they prefer. In the Midwest, foods high in fat and oil content will provide the most energy to help the birds survive the long, harsh winter nights. These foods include black oil sunflower seeds, niger thistle seed, shelled peanuts, suet mixes (especially those with seeds or fruit mixed in), peanut butter and white millet seed. The type of food you are feeding will determine what type of bird feeder you require. Obviously the more bird feeders and the more variety of foods you offer, the greater variety of birds you will attract.
There are endless varieties of feeders, from the basic platform feeders to the little feeders which attach to empty pop bottles to fancy feeders which allegedly thwart squirrels. Obviously if you are feeding tiny thistle seeds you cannot use a feeder with a large mesh which will allow the tiny seeds to fall through the feeder onto the ground!
Whatever sort of feeder you choose, ideally they should have certain characteristics in common in order to keep the birds safe and comfortable in the winter:
Easy cleanup: choose a feeder that you can easily clean. Because natural food sources such as bugs and seeds are basically unavailable in the winter, you’re liable to have large numbers of birds depending upon your backyard feeder. The bird feeder and the seed it contains need to be clean and dry to avoid mold and other unhealthy contaminants which can cause disease among your backyard birds. When cleaning or refilling the bird feeder be sure to discard wet seed or seed encased in ice, and let the feeder dry before refilling if possible. A cover for your bird feeder (see below) will help minimize wet seed.
One idea for avoiding a big mess of sunflower or other shells on the ground below the feeders is to use shelled sunflower seeds in the feeder. Any shelled seeds that manage to hit the ground will be promptly eaten by ground feeders such as mourning doves or possibly by my resident groundhog, Fat Eddie.
Another option for eliminating layers of seed hulls beneath your feeder is a seed hoop, such as the one shown in the slideshow. This particular hoop is sold at A Bird’s Paradise in 2nd Street Market. It easily attaches to your bird feeder; suspended approximately 6 inches below the feeder, it catches any seeds flung or kicked out of the feeder and provides a handy platform for bigger birds such as cardinals. Suspended any lower than 6 inches, the hoop provides a handy platform for the squirrels, comfortably seating two medium squirrels or one large squirrel.
Get a cover: bird feeders will be more practical in the winter if they have a cover. A nice wide cover over perches and dispensing trays will prevent seeds being buried by snow during storms and can help minimize wet seed. Feeder covers should extend several inches over the edge of the feeder to provide the best protection from all but the worst winter storms.
Size does count: bird feeders which hold large quantities of feed are more convenient as they might not need to be refilled as often (although usually with bird feeders ‘if you fill them they will come’ so you will end up refilling them frequently no matter what). This only works if the feeder is protected from moisture, because otherwise it will grow mold before it can be eaten and you will end up throwing out the moldy seed.
Got questions? One of the easiest ways to find out the best seed, feeders, locations and anything else you need to know (or obtain) is to go talk to Rachel at A Bird’s Paradise at the east end of 2nd Street Market. Tell Rachel what type birds you are seeking to feed/attract and she can help you find exactly what you need to fit your budget.
Feed the winter birds, watch the show and listen to their songs, and in the warmer months they will repay the favor by eating your harmful garden bugs!
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