Birds Need a Little Help in Winter

by Free Speech on October 22, 2012

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.





November is rapidly approaching and with what a winter normally brings to Wisconsin is cold and snow. I doubt that this winter is going to be as mild as last year’s winter, so I suggest that if you want some good winter “entertainment” then continue to feed the birds that you’ve fed all winter or it’s even a good time to begin to be a “birder.” Wisconsin has many bird species that don’t migrate to warmer climates and stay here all year long. It’s amazing the number of birds that remain here year-round and especially when we have a normal winter. The last decade our winters have been milder, but one never knows what the next few months will bring for our “feathered friends”, so if you feed birds or want to start now is the time to begin preparing for some cold and snowy weather. I’ve feed birds for years and I find that feeding birds is a great way to enjoy winter for you and all family members.

The birds that reside in Wisconsin throughout the year live on whatever they can find and salvage from nature and the natural 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, birds can always use some help from man despite what nature has left for them and what kind of weather “Old Man Winter” brings us! A winter with above normal snowfall can make foraging difficult in the deep snow for most birds including wild turkeys. All birds can always use some help from man to survive and make it through a normal winter. Besides helping birds survive, you also get the enjoyment of watching birds all winter.

Feeding birds can range from a feeder or two located close to a window and viewing area to a yard devoted to providing food and cover for our “winter residents.” Bird feeding can be a great family activity with children and adults both taking part in the feeding and viewing. If I was a novice who wanted to start feeding birds here a few tips and suggestions to begin your feeding. I suggest that you go to the library or Google “bird feeding” on your computer and you’ll find more information than you could ever need! You’ll find countless articles and information on the birds that you have in your immediate area of the state. These are the birds that you want to target. Individuals that work at businesses that sell seed and bird feeding equipment 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 bird feeding people like Wild Birds Unlimited, Ace Hardware, and Fleet Farm will gladly help you in your feeding venture. Another good idea is to pick up a bird identification book; so that you’ll know the birds that you’re feeding and watching. The Audubon Society has books that can greatly help anyone who wants to feed birds. Then, it’s a good idea and very educational to keep a journal with the birds you can identify from your feeding. Children will love to keep track of the many and numerous birds that will come to your feeders year-round and especially in the winter. 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 and late in the afternoon just as the sun is rising or setting. It’s very important to place your feeders where they provide some shelter and cover and also where you, your family, and friends can view them from inside your house. The most important thing to remember is that once you start feeding birds you must continue to feed them because the birds will learn to depend on you! You never want to leave a feeder empty in the cold and snow of winter no matter how miserable it can be in the outdoors.

Here are a few tips for a 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 some birds digest their food. This is like chickens and pheasants needing grit to digest their food. This is why you’ll see birds picking 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 sometime get more than the birds if you feeders aren’t placed properly. Try and find feeders that are as squirrel proof as possible. 4) Tie bags of suet to trees for quick energy for many birds. Most years, I try to hang a deer carcass with the exposed rib cage from a tree for the suet that birds like nuthatches, blue jays, and other birds love to pick at in winter. The carcass will be picked clean by the time spring arrives. 5) Put out ear corn on long nails from trees for squirrels and scatter some shell corn for rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, doves, blue jays, pheasants, and even wintering ducks and geese. The Wisconsin River, which I live on, stays open and many ducks and geese remain here all winter. I get all of these animals because there is available food. Once they start coming to feed, they’ll continue to come and depend on you for some of their food. 6) Keep your feeders out of the wind because wind can make feeding difficult. 7) Try to place your feeders at least 5 feet off the ground and near trees and bushes to protect the birds from predators like feral 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 try to tailor your 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 is Niger seed which the finches, chickadees, and pine siskins love to eat. There are other inexpensive seeds available, but much of the seed is things that the birds don’t normally eat and end up being waste. But, any seed is better than no seed at all. Bird seed prices have risen greatly with the cost of grains around the world and the terrible drought of last summer. I try to find the best seed prices and buy in bulk quantities. The price you pay for seed is well worth the enjoyment that you’ll gain from seeing these wonderful creatures and knowing that you’re helping them survive the harshness of winter.

The birds that frequent my feeders during winter are; juncos, sparrows, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, titmouse’s, morning doves, crows, thrushes, all species of woodpeckers, cardinals, finches, blue jays, and the “dreaded” sharp-shinned and kestrel hawks which can show up in the cold of winter for an easy meal. Since I live in the country, I also get the occasional pheasant, turkey, duck, and goose who all love shell corn and sunflower seed.

There is no better way to spend a cold winter day than watching your feeders and hopefully adding to your bird list! Have fun and know that you’re helping these birds live and survive a Wisconsin winter.


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