Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Prepare Your Yard Now for Winter Birds
October 17, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     The change to colder weather is bringing changes in the birds as well. Most of the shorebirds have migrated through the area and the hawk migration has passed peak. Flocks of geese and cormorants can be seen overhead, streaming their way south.

     You don’t have to look much further than your own backyard to know that the weather is bringing change. Just check your feeders. The male goldfinches have lost their bright yellow and black coloration. They are now donning a dull olive for the winter months. It reminds us that now is the time to prepare our bird feeder stations for the winter season ahead. I offered you some backyard tips last week, so here are some additional suggestions to help with your preparation.

     If you haven’t been feeding the birds all summer, now is the time to dust off those feeders, give them a good cleaning and fill them with fresh seed. If you have been feeding all summer, now is a good time to clean your feeders if you haven’t done so recently. Wash them with soap and water and, if necessary, a ten percent bleach or vinegar solution to kill any bacteria. Rinse thoroughly and let them dry completely before adding fresh seed.

     Now is also the time to assess whether you need, or want, to add more feeders. A thistle feeder will lure goldfinches and house finches. A peanut feeder will draw woodpeckers, nuthatches, and tufted titmice and suet is visited by many birds in the cooler weather including woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice. Sunflower and mixed seed feeders attract the widest variety of birds. As I mentioned last week, now is a good time to provide suet for birds to help build body fat for protection during these colder nights. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, brown creepers and many other birds will appreciate suet.

     There are many new feeders on the market that are easier to clean. It is usually near the base of the feeder where seed gets wet and moldy, so access to that area for cleaning is critical. We like the Aspects tube feeders that have “Quick-Clean” bases that are easily removed for cleaning with the push of a button. Droll Yankees also have tube feeders with removable bases as well as a new “Pull Ring” tube feeder that dissembles completely with the pull of a rod – no tools necessary. The most popular squirrel-proof feeders, the Squirrel Buster feeders, disassemble easily for cleaning. Keeping feeders clean, with fresh seed, is key to attracting more birds and protecting their health

     You’ll want to place feeders where you can watch from the house for the greatest enjoyment. Don’t wait until the ground freezes and we have two feet of snow to decide to put a pole in the ground to place a feeder in front of your window. You can always hang a bracket off your deck or porch to hold a feeder or there are brackets that mount on the window frame and will swing and lock in front of the window for close viewing. You’ll want to position feeders where you can enjoy them from the comfort of your home and, also, be able to access them for filling during inclement weather (remember LAST winter?)

     Window feeders stick right onto the window with suction cups to bring the birds right up close. These window feeders, or ones hanging in front of the window on a bracket, are the most convenient to fill in bad weather as it can be done right from the window. Some window and window sill feeders have two way mirror glass that let you watch the birds while they see only their reflection in the window. You can also purchase this mirror film separately for any window feeders. These provide great entertainment for children and cats!

     Quality seed is an important consideration for your winter bird feeding. Black oil sunflower has a high fat content that helps birds store energy and keep warm. So if you choose a seed mix, select one that is high in sunflower, as that is the preferred seed of many feeder birds. A little safflower will encourage cardinals while white millet and cracked corn is enjoyed by juncos, sparrows and other ground feeding birds. Juncos are already arriving so it is time to start encouraging them to your yard. Peanuts are also high in fat content and are great for attracting woodpeckers, nuthatches and titmice during the winter. Nyger (thistle) or a finch mix with Nyger and crushed sunflower meats attracts goldfinches and house finches. Other winter finches such as redpolls or pine siskins might also enjoy your thistle during the cold winter months.

     Though I said it before, fresh water becomes a scarce commodity in the colder weather so you should consider a bird bath with a heater. Some bird baths have built-in heaters with thermostats and are very energy efficient. De-icers can be added to any bath to keep them ice-free for the birds. Open water will draw all types of birds throughout the colder months. Again, place the bird bath where you can view it from a window if possible.

     A little planning and preparation now will mean winter-long enjoyment watching the birds in your yard from the comfort of your home.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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