Winter Bird Feeding
The white-throated sparrows have arrived in my garden; their wistful song is a sure sign that Old Man Winter is here. It is such a treat to watch all the activity around the feeder. If you have not taken up bird feeding, late fall and early winter are great times to get started. During winter birds are in need of both food and water. The trade off for your efforts will be a host of feathered friends bringing color and life to your garden.
Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Set up feeders in areas where the birds will feel safe.
Give the birds an easy escape by placing feeders near the branches of a tree or 5 to 10 feet from a large shrub. If space allows, set up several feeding stations in different areas of your yard. This prevents overcrowding and one bird from dominating the feeder. Periodically, move the feeders around to reduce the concentration of droppings and possible diseases. And rake under the feeder to keep the area clean. You'll be glad you did next spring.
Prevent window crashing disasters.
Most of us like to place feeders near windows so we can watch the birds. This sometimes leads to birds crashing into the glass. You can prevent this by stretching a piece of fruit tree netting taut across the window. Position the netting so that there is a few inches of space between it and the glass. Or mark up the window with a bar of soap. Simply changing the angle of approach so that the birds are not flying toward to window also helps.
Be consistent in your feeding schedule.
For the best turn out, keep your feeders well stocked. If you need to be away it is okay to stop feeding briefly. Birds usually have a series of feeding sites they visit daily; so they'll have plenty to eat if yours is empty for a few weeks. The worst time to stop feeding is late winter and early spring when natural food sources are at their lowest. If you live in an extremely isolated area, see if you can arrange for a friend to fill your feeders in your absence.
Some birds prefer to feed on the ground.
Sparrows, juncos, doves, and bobwhites prefer to feed on the ground. Throw the seed out at least 10 feet from areas where predators can hide and rotate the location periodically to prevent disease.
Don't skimp on the seed.
Avoid inexpensive blends that include fillers such as milo, wheat and oats. In the long run you won't save money because the birds won't eat it. Black oiled sunflower seeds are an all around favorite that appeal to a wide variety of seed eating birds. These are high in energy supplying oil and protein. If shells and hulls under the feeder is a problem, try some of the "waste free" seed blends. These blends are 100 percent consumable, which means less mess and feeders don't have to be filled as often.
Store your seed properly.
Keep your bird seed in a dry spot and in a rodent proof container. Check it occasionally for mold or insects.
People food is okay; just remember birds have small mouths.
Fruit slices, raisins and breadcrumbs are tasty additions to a bird's diet, but the pieces need to be small for easy digestion. Peanut butter is another favorite treat; however the sticky consistency can be a problem. Mix corn meal or suet into the peanut butter to make it more bird friendly.
A source of water is important to birds as well as food.
Birds need water to drink and to keep their feathers clean. Unfrozen water can be hard to find in winter. An immersible water heater designed for bird baths is handy for those who live in extremely cold climates. Bird baths should be shallow with a rough surface for the birds to stand on. Place the bath at least 4 to 5 feet away from feeders to prevent droppings and seed debris from contaminating the water. It is also a good idea to put the bath near a low hanging branch so birds can easily escape predators. Keep the bird bath clean and filled with water.
Continue to clean your feeders.
Even though it is cold and the last thing you will want to do is clean a bird feeder, this is an important task. Every few months wash your feeders in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Wooden feeders should be cleaned with a mild liquid soap and brush. Rinse the feeders thoroughly and allow them to dry before refilling.
The best way to keep squirrels away is to distract them.
Set up a squirrel feeder with dried corn to lure the squirrels away. As an added bonus large birds like crows will be drawn to the corn as well. Another way to keep squirrels out of bird feeders is to use safflower seed. Squirrels don't like them, but cardinals, titmice, chickadees and downy woodpeckers do. There are also specially designed counter-balance feeders that will close when squirrels try to feed from them.