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With all the mild temperatures in Arkansas, it might be difficult to believe that the season we are currently experiencing is indeed winter. A few green sprouts are peeking up through my garden, and thanks to the crazy weather this year, a few daffodils. Joining them both are plenty of birds, some of which I can’t help thinking look a little hungry.
Worried, I researched to find how to keep birds fed in the winter.
There are lots of basic birdseed options available at your local home improvement or grocery stores, but keeping our feathered friends happy during these guaranteed-to-be-winter-even-if-it-doesn’t-feel-like-it months requires attention to more than just what kind of seed we’re providing.
Here are some tips for making sure the birds in our yard give us the award for “Favorite Local Café.”
If we take pleasure in seeing chickadees and cardinals dining in our yards, let’s make sure the environment for them is as safe as possible. We don’t want the birds worried about becoming a snack while eating one themselves.
The biggest risk to wild birds is domestic cats. Hawks, owls, and other raptors can also be lurking around yards in hopes of finding a meal. Hang bird feeders in sheltered areas near tree branches and shrubs, or close to the house to provide a place for them if danger approaches. Pay attention to landscape walls and other objects that could act as a launchpad for critters. We don’t want to set the scene for a tragedy.
“Soggy” is generally not a word any human wants to be associated with food, and our feathered friends are no different. Not only does moisture make the seed clump together into chunks that are harder to eat, but it also allows mold to develop.
When choosing a bird feeder, look for broad overhangs on the roof and an enclosed food container to hold the seed. Be sure to check it after a wet weather day to clear away anything inedible, especially if it is an open feeder.
Keep an eye out for a bird feeder that also provides an adequate deck area or perches with room for the birds to land and take off comfortably.
In addition to a quick cleaning after a rainy day, take the time to empty the bird feeder every couple of weeks. Wash it well and let it dry before refilling with fresh seed and putting it back out in the yard. This helps deter mold and makes sure your backyard flock is not plotting to recreate a Hitchcock film next time you take a stroll.
As much as you can, choose seed with a higher oil content: black oil sunflower seed, hulled peanuts, nyjer (thistle) seed, peanut butter and suet, or white millet seed. These are great options for keeping their energy levels up and helping birds stay “fluffy” in winter months before higher-protein meals of caterpillars and insects become available in the spring. A healthy bird is better equipped to perpetuate the species by laying healthy eggs. “Birdwatcher’s Digest” offers a great list of food options for your backyard feeders.
If your yard is like mine, birds often have to fight with squirrels for a seat at the table, especially if the seed mix contains cracked corn. To alleviate this battle, I have been buying dried corn (on or off the cob) to scatter at least 50 feet away from where I feed the birds. The squirrels seem to be content filling their bellies on that, and do a lot less grazing at the bird feeder.
It might be too cold for baths, but like humans, birds need access to water in winter. If ice forms easily in your area, you can invest in a birdbath heater to keep water melted, but pouring a warm pitcher of water in the birdbath is an easy solution for those places that don’t remain below freezing all day.
Whether you enjoy the gardening part of having a garden, or just like seeing a few birds in your yard during warmer months, spending a little time keeping them happy now will ensure they’ll still be around come spring. Happy bird watching!
Photos: Jacek Dylag, Peter Lewis, Clever Visuals, Pedro Tortelli, Dusan Smetana via Unsplash.com
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