Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Plan Now for Winter Feeding
October 29, 2016
By Steve Grinley

     The change to colder weather has brought 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 we are approaching the eleventh hour for preparing our bird feeders for the winter season ahead. So once again, I offer you some tips 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 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. Sunflower and mixed seed feeders attract the widest variety of birds. 

     Suet is eaten by many birds in the cooler weather including woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice. 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. Both Aspects and Droll Yankees have tube feeders that have bases that are easily removed for cleaning. Droll also had a “Pull Ring” tube feeder that dissembles completely with the pull of a rod – no tools necessary. Even Squirrel Buster and some of the other squirrel-proof feeders disassemble easily for cleaning. Keeping feeders clean, with fresh seed, is key to attracting birds and protecting their health

     You will 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 also hang a bracket off your deck or porch to hold a feeder and there are brackets that mount on the window frame and will swing and lock in front of the window for close viewing. You will 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 (and a few feet of snow?).

     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 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 provides 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, chose 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. Thistle attracts goldfinches and house finches, and other winter finches such as redpolls or pine siskins might also enjoy your thistle during the cold winter months.

     Remember that 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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