Winter Bird Care
Posted: November 13, 2012
Most people have started preparing in many ways: putting the storm windows on the house, storing the hoes and tools, cutting back perennials, and so on.
It seems there is just as much work to end the growing season as starting it. There is one more task a homeowner can do which reaps all sorts of rewards: winter bird feeding.
As plants die back or go dormant, coupled with a snow cover, a bird’s food source is diminished. If you provide a feeder and seed during the winter time, you sustain our feathered friends which give you a productive task during the bleak months of winter. Consider taking up bird watching as a winter hobby too.
Depending on the habitat and neighborhood, you can see as many as thirty-five different species of birds. This has an impact on the kind of food you need. Not all birds prefer one kind of seed. At your local garden center, you can find as many as twenty different kinds of bird food. The best all-purpose food is a black-oil sunflower seed. It has a thin seed coat so it easy for smaller birds to crack open, but it does cost more. Striped sunflower seed is popular with bigger birds, but one disadvantage is the spent hulls left behind. Shelled or whole peanuts are a good choice for blue jays, chickadees, and woodpeckers. Seed mixes work well, but birds have been known to sort through the stuff they like and leave the rest behind. Suet provides much-needed fat in the winter. For a family project, “marvel meal” can be made at home.
The type of feeder you use will attract different kinds of birds as well. A hopper feeder looks like a house with plexiglass sides on top of a platform where the seed is dispensed as birds eat it. The plexiglass makes it easy to tell when more seed needs to be added. The seed is protected against the weather, but not so well against squirrels. Tube feeders are hollow plexiglass cylinders with multiple feeding ports and perches. These hanging feeders attract species that typically feed off the ground. You can attach a tray to the bottom to catch scattered seeds and to allow larger species to feed. Tray or platform feeders are simple, flat, raised surfaces on which you spread seed. Easy to make, they are one of the most popular feeders. Birds that typically feed on the ground are particularly attracted to this type of feeder. A disadvantage of platform feeders is that they are not squirrel-proof or weather resistant. They should have drainage holes for water and need to be cleaned often to remove bird droppings. Only one day’s worth of food should be put out at a time. Water becomes very scarce in the winter time. Adding a water source will attract even more diversity. Birdbaths do not have to be fancy. Terra cotta planter saucers work well, as do trash can lids, turned upside with some stones placed inside to keep it from blowing away.
Site selection is the last thing to keep in mind. You can place the feeders close enough to watch from a window. Birds in winter can be very entertaining. Keep it about ten feet from trees and shrubs. Birds do not venture far from protective cover. This gives them an opportunity to be close to shelter, gives them a perch to rest, and protection from elements. Monitor for the presence of cats and squirrels too. If you see signs of bear, remove the feeder at once. If a bear knows there is a food source, he will keep coming back for more.
If you would like more information on this topic, the Penn State master gardeners in Lackawanna County have the free publication “Winter Bird Feeding” available. Contact us at 570-963-6842 or email at LackawannaMG@psu.edu to request a copy.
Master Gardener Coordinator