Pet birds are some of the most beloved and popular pets in the world. If you are interested in parakeet cages, find out more in our article – check it out here. What about wild birds? Do they need our help and can we enjoy their presence more often? The answer is yes because a lot of birds do not migrate and could benefit from our help.
You might be surprised to find out how many birds could become regular visitors during winter. Feeding wild birds in the winter is not just an excellent way to connect with nature, but it’s also an act of kindness toward these feathered creatures.
Why you should feed birds in the winter
It was believed for a long time that wild birds do not need help from people in order to survive during the cold season because they are designed to adapt themselves to natural changes in the environment. However, the harsh reality is that their habitat has been altered in the past decades and this, in turn, diminished their resources and ability to survive.
Trees are being cut down, native plant species disappear, natural habitats are turned into human habitats and all of these changes are affecting wild birds as well. During winter, they would normally find seeds, nuts or berries in their surroundings. However, natural resources are becoming scarce and wild birds are struggling to survive, especially when they need extra energy.
Birds burn more calories when temperatures drop, in order to stay warm. Simply searching for food, while also trying to stay warm, is a huge effort during winter. Adding this to a lack of natural food resources, it’s easy to see that wild birds might need a helping hand. Of course, whatever we provide them with will not represent their main source of food, but a supplement.
Late winter and early spring represent a critical time for the survival of wild birds, because this is when food resources are very low, difficult to find or buried under the snow, and when the birds are already weak. If you want to help wild birds, it’s a good idea to set up feeders in your backyard and provide them with good quality nutrients that will enrich their diet.
Considering that many bird species are already in danger of becoming extinct, it’s crucial for people to assume responsibility and help in any way they can. Plus, by feeding birds in the winter, people also have a unique chance to observe various species, to understand their behavior and become closer to nature.
Feeding wild birds is an amazing experience and, fortunately, more and more people in the United States are setting up bird feeders in their backyards. Also, more and more special bird feeding products are available, in order to make it easier and more efficient for everyone.
Also, feeding birds in the winter seems to benefit them even beyond the cold season. According to a British study, providing a supplement of food during the cold months also has a positive impact on breeding. Researchers found that birds who received extra food were able to lay eggs earlier and had more successful nestlings who survived, compared to the ones that had not.
How to feed birds in the winter
First of all, the types of bird species that will be visiting you depend on several factors. There will be certain species according to the part of the country where you live and the local climate. Some of the most common wild birds are sparrows, finches, woodpeckers and chickadees. In the north, you might encounter pine grosbeaks, while in the south you might still encounter hummingbirds.
However, all bird populations fluctuate. Every year, a certain species might frequent your feeders more often. Similarly, in some years there can be more seeds available from wild plants, while in some years there can be less. You will most likely be surprised by the variety and fluctuation of bird species that visit your backyard.
Regarding bird feeders, there are various types available, in different shapes and sizes. If you want to feed different bird species, it’s best to set up a variety of feeders, according to their needs. For example, sparrows and juncos are ground-feeding birds, so they need a tray feeder, while larger birds prefer hopper feeders.
Since they are used during the winter, feeders need to have a protective cover, so that the seeds are not covered in snow, and they need to be placed somewhere safe from wind and snowfall. Also, feeders need to be close enough to your house so that you can enjoy bird watching, but far enough from windows and walls, so that the birds are safe from collisions.
If you want wild birds to feel welcome in your backyard and visit you often, you have to create a safe habitat that mimics their natural surroundings. Even if you have the best feeders, it’s very important where and how you place them. Ideally, the feeders shouldn’t be out in the open, but next to trees and shrubs that act as a shelter.
If you don’t have shrubs and evergreens, you can replace them with piles of brush, in order to help the birds feel safe when they are feeding. Also, your feathered friend would be happy to have a source of unfrozen water, since this is also difficult to find during the winter. A bird bath with a source of heat would be excellent for them to drink and bathe.
What to feed birds during winter
You can help wild birds by feeding them from December till April, with late winter being the most critical period. Try to observe how much food is consumed in one day and don’t put more than that, because food that sits too long can become moldy and toxic for them. Do your best to provide only fresh food and water.
Unlike migrating birds, who prefer insects, wild birds that spend the winter locally need seeds and sources of fat. Sunflower seeds are the most popular choice, because most birds enjoy them and they are easy to find. If you want to avoid the mess, choose hulled sunflower seeds. Safflower seeds are another great option.
Thistle seeds are the favorite treat of goldfinches who, unlike other birds, are comfortable eating while hanging upside down, from special feeders that are designed for them. Most birds, such as cardinals, blue jays and woodpeckers, also enjoy nuts. You can offer a variety of nuts, shelled or unshelled, and observe how each bird will grab one and carry it somewhere safe.
Suet or rendered fat is an important treat for your feathered friends. During the cold season, they need more nutritious foods and suet gives them enough energy to stay warm and search for their natural food. You can fill a wire container or mesh bag with suet, then hang it from a pole. Make sure it doesn’t go rancid and replace it regularly.
You can also use store-bought mixes, which are more convenient but try to choose a high-quality one. The cheap ones contain fillers that don’t benefit birds in any way. Whatever you go for, remember that a variety of seeds, nuts, fat and fruits is the best way to provide healthy nutrition for as many bird species as possible.
How to avoid possible dangers for birds
When feeding wild birds in the winter, they are exposed to some possible dangers you need to consider. First of all, make sure the feeders are not placed too close to windows and that they can’t be reached by cats. Secondly, once you start placing feeders in the backyard, other wildlife will also be attracted to them.
The most dangerous ones are bears. Since they become active during spring, it’s best to only keep the bird feeders up during the winter months. Squirrels, raccoons and all types of rodents can also become a nuisance. Try to use baffles as barriers and don’t leave spilled seeds or nut shells on the ground for too long.
Hygiene is also very important because moldy seeds or dirty feeders can cause intoxication and disease. Make sure to store the seeds properly and to replace the food on a regular basis. Feeders should be cleaned until all residue is removed, and then disinfected. You also need to clean seed hulls, nut shells and bird droppings and make sure they don’t accumulate.