How To Feed Birds During The Winter

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This article provides information about feeding birds during the winter
by Brett · All Zones · Birds · 2 Comments · March 28, 2011 · 5,350 views

Feeding Birds During Winter

Cardinal in snowIf you feed birds, you're in good company. Birding is one of America's favorite pastimes. A recent report from the Kaytee Avian Foundation estimates that 43 percent of U.S. households or about 65 million people provide food for wild birds.

Wintertime - and the Living's Not Easy

In much of North America, winter is a difficult time for birds. Days are often windy and cold; nights are long and even colder. The lush, berry-laden vegetation of summer and fall has withered or been consumed, andmost insects have died or become dormant.

Finding food can be especially challenging for birds during days with extreme cold temperatures. Setting up a backyard bird feeder makes their lives easier and ours more enjoyable. To observe birds at your backyard feeder, you don't need to brave the elements - you can simply watch the show from the comfort of your own home.

Types of Bird Food
During the spring and summer months, the diet of most songbirds is composed mainly of insects and spiders. These creatures are highly nutritious, abundant, and, for the most part, easily captured. During fall and winter, however, nonmigratory songbirds must shift their diets to fruits and seeds to survive. This is the time of year when winter birdfeeding enthusiasts should roll out the welcome mat and set the table.

The question is, what to serve for dinner? The shelves of many supermarkets and specialty bird-feeding stores are stocked with bags, buckets, and cakes of many food types. You may find the task of selecting the best foods a bit overwhelming. One key to attracting a diversity of bird species is to provide a variety of food types, but that doesn't mean you need to purchase one of everything on the shelf.

Which Seed Types Should I Provide?
The seeds that attract the greatest number of species are black-oil sunflower. These seeds have a high meat-to-shell ratio, they are nutritious and high in fat, and their small size and thin shells make them easy for small birds to handle and crack. (Striped sunflower seeds are larger and have a thicker seed coat.) Several studies show that this high-energy food is the flock-pleasing favorite of the majority of birds that visit feeders. In fact, it is often wasteful to fill a feeder with a standard mix - a blend of sunflower, milo, millet, oats, wheat, flax, and buckwheat seeds - since your visitors may eat the prized sunflower seeds and leave the rest.

Keep in mind that birds' feeding habits vary based on weather patterns, geographic region, season, and even individual taste, so you may find exceptions to these guidelines. Dried, whole-kernel corn is a favorite food for jays, pigeons, doves, quail, and pheasants. It is perhaps the least expensive of all birdseeds. Cracked corn, however, is easier to eat for blackbirds, finches, and sparrows. You can often find cracked corn at your local feed and seed store.

"Millet" comes in red and white varieties, but most birds prefer white proso millet over red. "Nijer," or thistle seed, is a delicacy for small finches such as goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls. Because nijer seeds are small and expensive, it's best to offer them in a special nijer feeder, which has tiny ports that prevent the seeds from spilling out.

Safflower is another seed that many birds like - most notably, cardinals. As an added bonus, it has limited appeal to starlings and House Sparrows (non-native species), and squirrels. Peanuts are another readily available food that many backyard birds will eat. While sunflower seeds are favored by most feeder birds, some birds do prefer other seeds. For example, blackbirds like corn, and doves prefer corn, milo, and millet. Most groundfeeding bird species prefer white millet or red milo to black-oil sunflower seed, but many tree-feeding species prefer sunflower seed. Experiment to see what your birds like best!


Joyce Joyner

Joyce Joyner · Gardenality Sprout · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
I've heard that it is 'irresponsible' to feed birds during the summer as they need the higher protein diet..BUGS...but they still come to my feeders and I enjoy them in my yard AND I think they help with insect control during the summer...to feed or not to feed, in the summer????

8 years ago ·
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Gardenality.com

Gardenality.com · Gardenality Genius · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
I've heard the same warnings that say to not feed birds during summer because it makes them stop eating insects. This is a myth and totally untrue. There have been many studies done that show birds don't rely 100% on food from feeders during the summer months. If you're feeding them seed during the summer, the seed will supplement but not reduce their wild food diet, such as insects, which also gives them needed protein. It's like saying that because someone was gonna give me cheese pizza for free every day that this is all I would ever eat. The feeders and feed we supply might also benefit birds that aren’t insect eaters. I feed the birds year round and it seems they eat less during the summer months...probably because there's more insects around. I think that feeding birds year round will simply attract more birds to not only feed but nest and raise their young on your property. It's also a good idea to provide a water source for birds. The more birds you attract, the more water sources there should be. I have 5 bird baths of various sizes and depths in my yard, and a garden pond. So, YES, feed the birds during summer and don't forget to provide water.

8 years ago ·
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