Winter in Chicagoland is tough for birds. Three things are essential for survival of our feathered friends: food, water and shelter. Feeding birds in the winter is both humane and rewarding. In winter the natural vegetative food supply is either depleted or covered by snow, and insects are dormant. Unfrozen drinking water is scarce and shelter is limited to evergreens or manmade bird houses. Here’s what you can do to supply the essentials birds need to survive the rugged winter and at the same time provide you with backyard entertainment throughout the snowy months ahead.
Supplying Food & Shelter
Birds are warm-blooded creatures and to maintain their high metabolisms they need energy rich foods, especially in the winter. Like people, birds have their favorite foods. If you’ve been disappointed in the past by lack of success at attracting birds, perhaps you’re not feeding the right foods. There are three basic types of foods: large seeds, small seeds and suet. If you’re new to bird feeding, it’s best to start by purchasing a high-quality mix. Not all mixes are created equal, and generally with bird food mixes, you get what you pay for. Cheap mixes contain lots of unappealing filler like red milo and low percentages of high energy seeds like sunflower. You’ll attract the widest variety of birds with good, high-energy mixes that contain black-oil or white stripped sunflower, cracked corn, white millet, and perhaps peanut hearts and safflower seed. Cardinals, Blue jays, chickadees, American goldfinches, titmice, Evening and Pine grosbeaks, nuthatches and House and Purple finches favor sunflower seeds.
With a little success under your belt you might want to customize your own bird feed mixes by purchasing individual components, or providing individual specialty foods like thistle seed that attracts Pine siskins, red polls, and a variety of sparrows and finches. Peanuts are very nutritional and tend to invite chickadees, Blue jays, woodpeckers and cardinals. Millet seeds, despite their small size, pack plenty of energy and attract juncos, Mourning doves, and a whole host of sparrow species. Suet, made from rendered fat, provides birds with an excellent source of energy. It can be offered by using old mesh onion bags, or special wire feeders. Suet is a favorite of woodpeckers, but also attracts starlings. Clustering several feeders, each containing a different food offering, can bring on a fun-to-watch bird feeding frenzy under the right conditions.
Providing a sheltered location for your feeders not only helps birds cope with the elements, but makes your feeders more attractive to more types of birds. Locate feeders out of the wind; and on the southeast side of the house, if possible. Placing feeders near a row of trees provides perches birds can use to survey for danger or escape predators such as cats and hawks. Feeders located near evergreens provide, night time roosting sites as well as wind and predator protection. If you use ground feeders make sure there is a clear perimeter so birds can monitor for danger.
Water is essential for the health of birds all year round. Clean, fresh water keeps birds hydrated and able to tolerate cold weather. Backyard birders who provide that water will be surprised at the wide variety of species that visit even on the coldest days.
Not all bird baths are suitable for use in winter. Store out of the weather or securely cover ceramic, mosaic or cement bird baths as freeze and thaw cycles may cause damage. Metal or plastic bird baths work best and are better yet when water is kept ice-free with the addition of a heater specifically designed for this purpose. There are also bird baths available that have integrated heaters. Don’t use chemical additives to de-ice bird baths as these may harm birds. Consider locating your bird bath where it’s convenient to keep it clean and filled. Situating your bird bath in the sun will keep it ice-free longer.
Posted on 12/10/2014 at 6:00:00 PM