As the weather cools and we all get ready to settle in for the long winter’s night, let us not forget that while many of our favorite birds leave for the winter, literally in search of greener pastures, there are new visitor’s coming who need help through the darkness. Birds like the Dark Eyed Junco, the Evening and Pine Grosbeck, and the Common Redpoll, all visit Wisconsin in the winter. To that end, it is time to think about the winter feeder. What you put in the feeder matters almost as much as where you place your feeder.
During the Spring and Summer, birds eat insects which provide the right mix of protein and carbohydrates for their active summer lives. As winter settles in the birds must switch to seeds and nuts as insects die off. Black-oil sunflower seeds attract the greatest number of species. These seeds have a high meat-to-shell ratio, they are nutritious and high in fat, and their small size and thin shells make them easy for small birds to handle and crack. The more traditional striped sunflower seeds have a much thicker shell, making them difficult for the smaller birds. While mixes seem appealing they are often full of “filler” seed and don’t provide as much high-quality food for the birds.
Additionally, a reliable source of unfrozen fresh water can be a life saver. Birds that do not frequent feeders will come to unfrozen water sources. An immersion heater for bird baths can be purchased relatively inexpensively and keep open water available even on the harshest winter days. Clean the bird bath often and keep it full of fresh water.
For placement keep the feeders within 3 feet of windows. Birds are more likely to notice the glass and if they don’t are not flying at top speed if they would strike a window. Keep feeders close to natural shelters such as trees and shrubs, but far enough away (about 10 feet) so squirrels cannot access the feeders and predators cannot hide.
Having birds visit your house in the winter is a pleasant and rewarding experience. Giving them what they need in the harshest time of year is a great way to keep out biodiversity high and our spirits lifted.