Our first snowfall last week makes me think of our beautiful feathered friends around the backyard. Winter can be a difficult time for them as we get more snow cover. Much available food will soon be completely covered by snow. With a few feeders and seed outside, you’ll have a wide variety of birds in your backyard this winter. Remember once you start to feed the birds they will come to depend on you. Don’t start feeding unless you intend to keep it up. You will notice that there are a few different species like Juncos, small birds with white and black heads.
Water is almost as important as food for the birds during the winter. You can find heaters to put in the bird bath that keep the water liquid. They don’t use much energy, as they do not heat the water but just keep it above freezing. They can be a little pricy ($35-50) but they last for years. Most bird supply companies carry them. You can also try farm supply warehouses; their prices are often better. Bird seed can be found here too for a good price. Also try stores like Menards and Costco.
It’s good to have a variety of seed to attract as many species as possible. Cardinals and mourning doves love sunflower and safflower seed. Finches like thistle seed. Blue jays adore peanuts! Sparrows will eat a variety of seed. I use an all-purpose seed mix augmented with sunflower, safflower, and thistle. Wood peckers love suet with nuts.
A word on squirrels: yes they are a pain in the butt and they love to eat all the bird seed. I feed the ones around my yard peanuts in the shell. They still eat the seed but not as much.
One solution is a squirrel-proof feeder. These can get pricey, I’ve seen some as much as $100 on line. Check online for bird supplies. Farm supply places often have good prices.
One last thought: putting out food and water in the winter will attract other wildlife besides birds. Even in urban areas, we find skunks, racoons, and possums. We try and keep an eye out for them, especially in the hours before sunrise. Remember, these are wild animals. Stay clear of them and be happy you are providing sustenance to all the neighborhood creatures.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH & DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO