For many people, with cooler weather come thoughts of the holidays, snowball fights and sitting by a crackling fire. These are all things that I love, but my personal favorite winter activity is watching the birds visit the feeders outside of my window. For years, my family has enjoyed observing our feeders, and we always get excited when an uncommon visitor stops by in those cold winter months. Right now is the perfect time to set up a bird feeding station, which can provide birds with a steady food source throughout the winter.
For winter bird feeding, the best time to set up feeders is in the fall, so birds know where food is available when the first snow rolls around. It is very important to keep your feeders clean so they remain free of fungus and disease. Some easy ways to do this is to remove leftover seeds and shells when refilling, occasionally scrub and soak the feeders and rotate where you ground feed so droppings don’t accumulate. Especially in the snowy months of winter, it’s necessary to keep seed from getting wet and moldy.
There are a few things to consider when setting up feeders for our feathered friends. The first is the type of seed offered. Just like humans, different species of birds have different favorite foods. In my experience, it’s best to avoid most mixes, because they often include fillers like red millet and flax, which is often discarded in favor of yummier pieces. An excellent basic choice is black oil sunflower seeds; many different birds enjoy them, and it will attract a great variety to your yard. Another factor is the type of feeder you use. Platform or tray feeders attract the widest variety of birds because they are the most accessible, while tube feeders are designed for small birds like finches and woodpeckers. By doing a little research on your favorite birds and their feeding preferences, you can draw them to your yard and help them have a more comfortable winter.
The final component for your feeding station is shelter. A successful bird feeding operation will invite many birds, which can in turn attract hungry predators. Having nearby trees, shrubs or even a brush pile provides birds with a safe space to eat their seeds and a place to hide in if a hawk or cat comes to prowl. If you wish to go above and beyond, add a source of clean, unfrozen water. This is extremely helpful to birds in the winter, for it offers them a source of drinking water other than snow, as well as a place to wash their feathers, and clean feathers insulate better than dirty ones.
Putting out bird feeders can be a very rewarding experience, and provides a steady source of entertainment throughout the winter months. From northern cardinals to more elusive species like eastern bluebirds, offering an array of feed can attract many visitors to your home.
Olivia Belk, Naturalist, Glenwood Gardens