With the chill of winter now with us, I’ve been making sure our feeders are up and full of tasty treats for the birds (and, as it turns out, also for the squirrels and raccoons and whoever else seems to come by). Feeders can attract a great diversity of species and as you keep an eye on them you can not only build skills in identifying birds but also observe their different behaviors.
Use a variety of different types of feeders and foods: Some birds prefer food off the ground, others like to forage on the ground, some birds like to cling, others like to perch. Beak shape and food preferences also play in to which birds will be attracted to your feeders. Here’s a quick run-down of the different feeder types and foods that you can offer.
Tube Feeders – Cylinder shaped with perches. Those with the bigger ports are used for sunflower seeds and peanuts to attract Chickadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and finches and then there are the specialty tube feeders for thistle seeds especially for the Gold Finches.
Platform Feeders – Great for offering a variety of seeds, nuts and dried fruits like raisins. Mockingbirds, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, finches, woodpeckers as well as Chickadees, Nuthatches and Tufted Titmice will stop by to these feeders.
Try placing a platform feeder right near the ground or clear out a spot to feed directly on the ground and you’ll attract sparrows such as the White-Throated and White-Crowned Sparrows as well as the Eastern Towhee and Dark-eyed Juncos.
Mealworm Feeders – Mealworms are a favorite of many of our birds mentioned above during the winter time but they will also attract Bluebirds which is a great treat. The feeders themselves are often made of a clear acrylic tray with perhaps a dome over the top which allows you to keep larger birds out. You can buy meal worms at the pet store but they’re pretty pricey. Another option is to buy them online in larger quantities.
Suet Feeders – A simple suet cage that holds a suet cake will be a welcome food for woodpeckers as well as Carolina Wrens, Nuthatches, kinglets and others that benefit from this extra bit of fuel in the winter.
Of course remember that when you put out bird feeders and attract small birds, you may attract hawks such as the Coopers Hawk or Sharp-Shinned Hawk which feed on small birds. It’s all part of nature’s process, part of the food chain….and hawks are really cool too.
Provide shelter: Brush piles, hedgerows and bushes provide shelter from harsh weather (snow/sleet, and wind) as well as protection from predators.
Keep water sources ice-free: Water is critical for birds through the winter since they can’t metabolize their food without it. On our deck we have two sources of water – one is a heated bird bath that I clean and refill each morning (raccoons seem to like to wash their paws in it each night) and the other is a non-powered solar water dish called the solar sipper which is basically a round plastic container with a black top and a small opening for the birds to sip water from. I was skeptical at first bit it actually does keep the water liquid on all but the coldest days.
What feeders do you have up? Do you have a favorite type? Any tips that you’d like to share on feeding the birds?
And remember, the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Rust Sanctuary Shop is open every Saturday from 10-2. They have all the different seeds and suets. Members of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy get a great discount so just let them know you’re a member when you check out.