2013 January – Backyard winter visitors


Acorn woodpecker at home made feeder

Acorn woodpecker at home made feeder

In winter, with the scarcity of natural foods, more birds can be enticed into your yard by providing nutritious food: black oil sunflower seeds and safflower for grosbeaks and cardinals in tray and hopper feeders; white proso millet, milo or sorghum for the ground-feeding birds like juncos, towhees, and sparrows; nyjer/thistle seed in feeder socks for all finches; shelled or cracked corn; and fat-containing high-energy suet attracts just about all birds including woodpeckers. Avoid waste seed fillers like golden millet, red millet, and flax seed. These just end up on the ground, uneaten, wet and wasted.

Take the hummingbird feeders in at night to prevent freezing and put out before daylight. Keep the same sugar:water ratio of 1:4 – do NOT use artificial sweeteners and do NOT use red dye.

In some areas it may be difficult for birds to find unfrozen water. Consider offering a mildly heated birdbath to help them stay clean and free of parasites. This is also a great way to attract birds that do not usually come to feeders. Keep baths 3 inches or less deep, add gravel or stones for a foothold if it is too slippery. Place 10-15 feet from brushy cover.

To prevent the spread of avian diseases, clean all feeders (seed and hummingbird) and birdbaths regularly with a 1:9 bleach/water solution. Rinse well and allow to dry before refilling with food or water.

However, with the increase in bird feeders, some hawks have adapted to urban living. Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks, merlins, or shrikes may also be attracted to your yard for the birds at your feeders. The only way to stop them is to stop feeding the other birds. If you do not want to be that extreme, at least move the feeders away from your windows to prevent collisions by either prey or predator.

Provide nearby bushes, within 10-15 feet, for escape, shelter, and roosting. Use your holiday tree or landscape trimmings as a mini-refuge. Plant evergreens near feeders and birdbaths for perfect cover after other trees lose their leaves. Plant native vegetation that flowers and then sets seed heads and/or fruit. Don’t prune these back during the winter months – let the birds harvest this native abundance. Do not use chemical pesticides! Native plants attract native insects, an important source of food for many birds.

Consider leaving nest boxes out throughout the winter. These can shelter birds from weather as well as offering protection from predators.

Don’t forget to cap chimneys and cover attic openings. Keep garage doors completely closed.

Now sit back and enjoy the birds attracted by your labors. While you are at it, how about participating in a little “citizen science project” called The Great Backyard Bird Count – February 15-18, 2013, sponsored by Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Go to http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc to read more, get guidelines, free stuff, and links to report your sightings. Your counts will be added to the North American database. Involve your family and friends. Do a count on one or all days, for 15 minutes, an hour or a few hours.


Birdwatching Magazine, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon At Home, Columbus Audubon, National Wildlife Federation

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