A red cardinal perched in a bare tree. A blue jay on a fence post. Birds delight us year ‘round – even more so in the bleak winter months. Put out bird feeders, supply protective cover and a source of fresh water – and the birds will come.
There are about 35 species of birds common to our backyards, with dozens more that pass by on their migratory travels. A field guide with good photos will help you to identify the species that show up at your feeder. You’ll get to know the regulars and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with surprise visits from others.
Birds will frequent feeding stations all year, but during the winter bird feeders provide the most value to your local bird population. Birds are warm-blooded and must maintain their body temperature within a certain range. To do this when the temperatures dip, they need the calories found in energy rich seeds and suet – easily provided in bird feeders.
Different species of birds prefer different types of seeds and feeders, and no one type is preferred by all birds. Put out a few different types of feeders and food to encourage a diversity of visitors.
The three main types of feeders are hopper or house feeders, tube feeders, and tray or platform feeders.
A hopper feeder looks like a house with Plexiglas sides on top of a platform where the seed is dispensed as birds eat it.
Tube feeders are hollow Plexiglas cylinders with multiple feeding ports and perches. These hanging feeders attract species that typically feed up off the ground.
Tray or platform feeders are flat surfaces on which you spread seed. Birds that typically feed on the ground are particularly attracted to this type of feeder.
Besides the three primary types, there are feeders designed specifically for suet, thistle, peanuts, mealworms, and fruit.
Platform and hopper feeders are especially good for attracting cardinals, wrens, chickadees, titmice, jays, and grosbeaks. Hanging feeders, because they blow in the wind, are favorites of those species able to hang on while feeding such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and finches.
You have lots of choices of birdseed, too. All seed is not alike, and birds can tell the difference among seeds.
Sunflower seeds attract cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays, goldfinches, purple finches, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches. Black sunflower seeds, sometimes called oil seeds, are higher in oil content and softer shelled than grey striped sunflower seeds.
Safflower is a white seed, slightly smaller than black sunflower seed. Chickadees, titmice, chickadees, and downy woodpeckers eat it.
Goldfinches love nyger seed. Hang up a nyger seed feeder and you may have dozens of goldfinches visiting the feeder at once – a cheerful sight on a winter day.
High calorie, high energy suet is a great food to offer your back yard birds. Woodpeckers are a common sight on suet feeders.
In winter, birds can suffer from lack of water more than food as natural water sources freeze over or dry up. Birdbaths provide fresh water when most needed. During the coldest months consider a heater or heated birdbath. Terracotta saucers used under large plants make excellent birdbaths. You can also use a garbage can lid with a few stones placed inside.
Providing cover for birds will make your back yard even more inviting. Birdhouses and natural plant cover provide protection from cold weather and from predators, such as birds of prey – and cats. Be sure to clean out old nests from houses to help reduce the possibility of parasitic bugs surviving the winter.
Winter is a great time to feed and enjoy the birds. And when that snowstorm hits, they’ll show up. How many? Count ‘em.
When starting up a feeding program, be patient. It may take as long as several weeks before the birds discover your feeders. While you wait, be sure to keep the feeders and birdbaths filled. Eventually, the birds will come.