|Fair Oaks Blvd Nursery
|WINTER BIRD FEEDING
If you feed birds, you’re in good company. Birding is one of America’s favorite pastimes. A 1997 report from the Kaytee Avian
Foundation estimates that 43 percent of U.S. households or about 65 million people provide food for wild birds.
Wintertime—and the Living’s Not Easy
In much of North America, winter is a difficult time for birds. Days are often windy and cold; nights are long and even colder. The
lush, berry-laden vegetation of summer and fall has withered or been consumed, and most insects have died or become dormant.
Finding food can be especially challenging for birds during days with extreme cold temperatures. Setting up a backyard bird
feeder makes their lives easier and ours more enjoyable. To observe birds at your backyard feeder, you don’t need to brave the
elements—you can simply watch the show from the comfort of your own home.
Types of Bird Food
During the spring and summer months, the diet of most songbirds is composed mainly of insects and have a thicker seed coat.
Several studies, including our own Seed Preference Test, show that this high-energy food is the flock-pleasing favorite
of the majority of birds that visit feeders. In fact, it is often wasteful to fill a feeder with a standard mix—a blend of sunflower, milo,
millet, oats, wheat, flax, and buckwheat seeds—since your visitors may eat the prized sunflower seeds and leave the rest.
Nonmigratory songbirds must shift their diets to fruits and seeds to survive. This is the time of year when winter birdfeeding
enthusiasts should roll out the welcome mat and set the table. The question is, what to serve for dinner? The shelves of many
supermarkets and specialty bird-feeding stores are stocked with bags, buckets, and cakes of many food types. You may find the
task of selecting the best foods a bit overwhelming. One key to attracting a diversity of bird species is to provide a variety of food
types, but that doesn’t mean you need to purchase one of everything on the shelf.
Which Seed Types Should I Provide?
The seeds that attract the greatest number of species are black-oil sunflower. These seeds have a highmeat-to-shell ratio, they are
nutritious and high in fat, and their small size and thin shells make them easy for small birds to handle and crack. (Striped sunflower
seeds are larger) Keep in mind that birds’ feeding habits vary based on weather patterns, geographic region, season, and even
individual taste, so you may find exceptions to these guidelines. In the table, “corn” refers to dried, whole-kernel corn, a favorite
food for jays, pigeons, doves, quail, and pheasants. It is perhaps the least expensive of all birdseeds. Cracked
corn, however, is easier to eat for blackbirds, finches, and sparrows. “Millet” comes in red and white varieties, but most birds prefer
white proso millet over red. “Nijer,” or thistle seed, is a delicacy for small finches such as goldfinches, siskins,
and redpolls. Because nijer seeds are small and expensive, it’s best to offer them in a special nijer feeder, which has tiny ports that
prevent the seeds from spilling out. Safflower is another seed that many birds like—most notably, cardinals. As an
added bonus, it has limited appeal to starlings and House Sparrows (non-native species), and squirrels. Peanuts are another
readily available food that many backyard birds will eat. While sunflower seeds are favored by most feeder birds, some birds
do prefer other seeds. For example, blackbirds like corn, and doves prefer corn, milo, and millet. Our Seed Preference
Test found that most groundfeeding bird species prefer white millet or red milo to black-oil sunflower seed, but many tree-feeding
species prefer sunflower seed.
Experiment to see what your birds like best! Make it Yourself As an alternative to commercial mixtures, which may have a high
percentage of less appealing “filler seeds” such as red milo, you can create an attractive,
low-cost mixture yourself. Pour one 25-pound bag of black-oil sunflower seed, one 10-pound bag of white proso millet,
and one 10-pound bag of cracked corn into a clean trash barrel. Mix it up with a broomstick, and be sure to replace the lid tightly. In
fact, always store whatever seed you decide to provide in a tight, waterproof container. Metal containers work best
to prevent rodents from gnawing their way into your food supply.
Leftovers: For the Birds?
You don’t have to limit your offerings to commercial birdseed. Some people save the seeds from squash and melons. This is a
great way to put the seeds from your Halloween pumpkins to good use. Some birds relish these seeds even more than black-oil
sunflower. Spread them out on trays to air dry before placing them in your feeders or on the ground. If the seeds are sufficiently dry
and free of mold, you can save them to use when winter comes. Smaller birds may have a tough time breaking open vegetable
seeds, but if you run the seeds through a food processor first, they will be able to eat them with ease. Some people throw out
scraps of stale bread, cake, or doughnuts for their feathered visitors. There’s nothing wrong with this, but be sure the food is not
moldy or it may harm the birds. Another caveat: table scraps may attract less-welcome visitors such as European
Starlings, House Sparrows, rats, or raccoons. Attracting nuisance species can be a real problem in urban and suburban
areas, so be considerate of your neighbors before feeding leftovers. High-Energy Foods You can also attract insect-eating
birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches to your yard by offering peanut butter or suet (beef fat). Birds that live in
cold climates especially appreciate these high-energy foods. Some people worry that birds will choke on sticky peanut butter.
There’s no evidence that they do, but you can completely eliminate any risk by mixing peanut butter with corn meal or oatmeal.
The plain beef suet available at most supermarket meat departments is an excellent high-energy food. Suet can quickly become
rancid in warm weather, but some commercial suet cakes and doughs can be used year-round. Offer the suet in a plastic mesh
bag (the kind onions come in) or, to guard against raccoons, in a wire basket. Premade suet cakes are also available in most
stores that sell bird-feeding supplies. These cakes often contain a mix of birdseeds. The cakes are great to have on hand in
case your local supermarket is out of suet. Fruity Favorites Birds such as robins, thrushes, bluebirds, and waxwings don’t usually
show up at feeders because seeds are not a major component of their diet. But you can still tempt them to dinner with an offering of
fruit. Soften dried raisins and currents by soaking them in water, then offer them at your feeding station. Mockingbirds, catbirds,
tanagers, and orioles will also find sliced fresh fruit attractive. You can offer fruit on a platform feeder or simply on a plate
on the ground.
Water, Water Everywhere
Unfrozen water can be as hard for birds to find in winter as food. Birds need water not only to drink, but also to bathe in—clean
feathers provide the best insulation. A dependable supply of fresh water will even attract to your yard birds that wouldn’t ordinarily
come to your feeders. A shallow, easy-to-clean birdbath is best—an upside-down garbage can lid or large frying pan will work fine.
To emulate a natural puddle, simply dig a shallow hole in the ground and line it with plastic before filling it with water. An immersion-
style water heater will keep your birdbath unfrozen in the winter. Clean your birdbath often and keep it filled with fresh water.
Types of Feeders
The ideal bird feeder is sturdy enough to withstand winter weather, tight enough to keep seeds dry, large enough that you don’t have
to refill it constantly, and easy to assemble and keep clean. For these reasons, plastic or metal feeders work better than wooden
ones. In general, seed-feeders fall into three categories: tray feeders, hopper feeders, and tube feeders. Tray feeders
are typically placed close to the ground and attract ground-feeding birds such as juncos, sparrows, and towhees. Tray feeders also
work well when mounted on deck railings, stumps, or posts. Hopper feeders are very common and are often hung from trees,
decks, and poles. These feeders are especially good for larger species such as cardinals, jays, and grosbeaks. Tube feeders are
typically suspended from trees and posts. They are excellent for finches, titmice, and chickadees. Feeder Placement Place your
feeder in an area free of disturbances where it is easy to see and convenient to refill. Your feeder should be close to natural shelters
(cover) such as trees or shrubs. Evergreens are ideal, providing maximum cover from winter winds and predators. If trees and
shrubs are too close, however, they can also provide good jumping-off places for squirrels that may be eyeing the seeds, and cats
that may be eyeing the birds. A distance of about 10 feet seems to be a happy compromise. You can provide resting and escape
cover for ground-dwelling birds, such as Song Sparrows, by placing large, loosely stacked brush piles near your feeders.
Clean your feeders about once every two weeks, more often during times of heavy use. Scrub them with soap and water, then dip
them into a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water. Rinse them well and allow them to dry thoroughly before refilling them
with birdseed. Another important maintenance activity is to periodically rake up birdseed hulls beneath your feeders. Decomposing
hulls may harbor bacteria that could spread bird diseases to your feathered guests and may kill your lawn or flowers.
Poorly maintained feeders may contribute to the spread of infectious diseases among birds. The feeders themselves can
sometimes pose hazards too. Here are some helpful hints for successful bird feeding:
• Avoid overcrowding at feeders by placing numerous feeders several feet apart.
• Keep your feeding area and feeders clean.
• Keep food and food-storage containers dry and free of mold and fungus.
• Check your feeders for safety. Sharp edges can scratch birds and make them susceptible to infection.
People wonder whether bird feeding causes birds to change their migratory behavior. The clue that most birds use to migrate is
the change in day length rather than the availability of food. Also, peak migration time is late summer and fall, a time when natural
foods are readily available anyway. So, it is unlikely that feeding birds has any effect on their migratory patterns.
Many people also worry about what will happen to their backyard visitors when they go on vacation. Ideally, a neighbor or friend
should stop by to restock your feeder. Otherwise, try to taper off gradually before you go. Don’t fret, however; it’s fine to stop
feeding briefly. In winter, natural food sources often disappear overnight when they are covered by snow or consumed by other
animals. Birds have adapted accordingly—studies show that even birds with full access to feeders consume three quarters
of their diet elsewhere, and that when feeder birds are deprived of supplemental foods, they quickly revert to an all-natural diet. If
your neighbors have feeders too, you can rest even more assured that your birds will not starve. If You Build it, Will They Come?
It may take a while for the word to get out about the new feeder in town. If you are not seeing birds within a few days of setting up
your feeder, try sprinkling some seeds on the ground around the feeder to make your feeding site more obvious. If the seed in the
feeder is blowing out or getting wet, there is a good chance that your birds are getting the same treatment. Your feeder may simply
be too exposed. Moving it to a calmer, more sheltered spot may increase visitation. In newly developed housing areas, birds may
not feel sufficiently protected because trees and shrubs may be small or few in number. Remember too tat bird populations
fluctuate naturally from year to year, so if you notice a scarcity of feeder birds this year, you may be surprised by an abundance of
birds the next year.
Suggested Feeders: Hopper, Large Tube & Platform
Includes songbirds' favorite grains with lots of
energy-rich black oil sunflower seeds
Attracts: Chickadee, Junco, Grosbeak, Mourning
Dove, Flicker, Nuthatch, Sparrow, Titmouse
Sizes: 5lb & 10lb
Suggested Feeders: Hopper, Large Tube & Platform
shelled peanuts, added calcium for bird health and
other appetizing ingredients. Because there are no
sunflower hulls,every bite is 100% edible.
No messy leftovers & no sprouts
Attracts: Bobwhites, Sparrows, Woodpeckers,
Finches, Pine Siskins, Mourning Doves,
Sizes: 5lb & 10lb
|Sunflower Hearts & Chips
Suggested Feeders: Hopper, Large Tube & Platform