This winter’s weather has been different from last year thus far with little snow and cold in November and December. But, there are many birds that stay in Wisconsin all winter even with the ups and downs of a typical winter. I always find it amazing that there are so many different species of wild birds that stay in Wisconsin year-round and particularly stay in the winter considering what a normal winter in the Upper Midwest can bring. I’ve been a serious birdfeeder for many years and find that feeding birds is a great way to enjoy winter for you, your children, and all members of your family.
The birds that reside in Wisconsin throughout the year live on what they can find and salvage in nature and its surroundings. Be it, seeds from native bushes and wild plants, nuts, dried berries, old vegetable matter, and left-over grains from a farmer’s harvest of corn, soybeans, and other grains. But, wild birds can always use some help from man despite what nature has left for them and what kind of weather “Old Man Winter” brings. A winter with above normal snowfall can make foraging difficult in the deep snow for most birds’ including wild turkeys with their long legs. Birds can always use some help from humans to make it through a normal Wisconsin winter. Besides helping birds survive the snow and cold, you also get the enjoyment of watching and enjoying birds all winter.
Feeding birds can range from a feeder or two located close to a window or a viewing area to an entire yard devoted to providing food and cover for our “winter residents.” I have 15-20 feeders scattered around my couple of acres devoted to birds. I use a commercial mix, black oil sunflower seeds, shell corn, and suet for energy in the cold. Bird feeding can be a great family activity during the winter with children and adults both taking part in this feeding and viewing. If I was a novice birdfeeder who wanted to start feeding birds in my yard, then here are a few tips and suggestions to begin you’re feeding with. Go to the library or Google “bird feeding” on your computer. You’ll find countless articles and information on the birds that you have in your immediate area and state. Buy or borrow some bird books as references for your feeding. People who work at places that sell seed and supplies can and will help you in your start-up! They can help you in choosing the right feeders, food, and accessories. Most people who work at stores that cater to people who feed birds like Wild Birds Unlimited, Ace Hardware, and Fleet Farm will help get you started in your feeding venture. Another good idea is to pick up a bird identification book; so that you’ll know what birds you’re watching and feeding. The Audubon Society has books that can greatly help anyone who feeds birds. Then, it’s a good idea and very educational to keep a journal of the birds that you can identify from your feeding. Children love to keep track of the many and numerous birds that will come to your feeders year-round and particularly in the winter when they are often inside the house. It won’t take long before you’ll begin to recognize birds and even get to know their habits including what they prefer to eat and when they come and use your feeders. As an example, cardinals come to my feeders early in the morning and late in the afternoon just as the sun is rising or setting. It’s important to place your feeders where they provide some shelter and cover and also are where you, your family, and friends can view from them from inside your house. The most important thing to remember is that once you start feeding birds you must continue to do it because the birds will learn to depend on you! You never want to leave a bird feeder empty in the winter. I’ll repeat what I just said, you never want to leave a bird feeder empty.
Here are a few more tips for the beginning birder; 1) Keep your feeders clean because birds can get sick from “dirty’ feeders. 2) Have a container of course sand available to help birds digest their food. This is like chickens and pheasants needing grit to digest their food. This is why you see birds picking at gravel on roadsides. 3) Scatter some seed on the ground for ground feeding birds and critters like squirrels and rabbits. Though, squirrels can really waste seed and get more than the birds at times. Try and find feeders that are as squirrel proof as possible because you’ll find that squirrels are food hogs and are taking feed away from your “feathered friends”. 4) Tie bags of suet to trees for quick energy for the birds. I hang a deer carcass with the rib cage in my yard for suet for nuthatches, blue jays, and any other suet eating bird. The deer skeleton will be picked clean by the spring. 5) Put out ear corn on long nails from trees for squirrels and scatter shell corn for rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, doves, blue jays, pheasants, and ducks. I get all of these birds and animals because there is food in the yard for them. Once they starting coming to eat, they’ll continue to come and depend on your feeding. 6) Keep your feeders out of the wind. 7) Try to place your feeders at least 5 feet above the ground and near trees and bushes to protect the birds from predators like cats and even hawks. 8) Keep cats inside because loose and feral cats can greatly affect a wild bird population. 9) Different kinds of seeds are preferred by different bird species, so tailor you feed accordingly. I use some different seeds, but black oil sunflower seeds are eaten by most if not all birds. The other seed that I buy and it’s expensive is Niger seed which the finches, chickadees and pine siskins love to eat. There are cheaper seeds available, but much of the seed is things that the birds don’t eat and end up being waste. These are better than no seed at all, but it isn’t a very good buy for the consumer. Bird seed prices have risen greatly with the cost of grains around the world, but to me the satisfaction is well worth it. You can also make some suet with nuts, berries, and seeds yourself on a cold winter day. I try and find the best prices on seeds and to me the price is well worth the enjoyment I gain from seeing the many birds in my yard.
The birds that frequent my feeders during the winter are; juncos, sparrows, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, titmouse’s, mourning doves, crows, starlings, blackbirds, thrushes, all species of woodpeckers, grackles, cardinals, finches, and the “dreaded” sharp-shinned and kestrel hawks which can show up in cold and snowy weather for an easy meal. Since I live in the country, I also get a few pheasants, turkeys, ducks, and geese that seem to like shell corn and sunflower seeds when finding food is difficult. I also get some predators that have to eat too and they include’ hawks and the occasional eagle that roosts above my feeders! In nature, all of the creatures must eat and living in the wild can be dangerous with flying predators looking for food too, particularly in cold and snowy weather when food is at a premium.
There is not a better way to spend a cold winter day than watching your feeders and hopefully adding to your bird list! I’ve been considering putting a video camera in my backyard for everyone on my website to view, but I don’t have the money and expertise yet!