Winter Bird Feeding

Winter Bird Feeding

Dec 9, 2016

Winter bird feeding in Iowa starts now. Before heavy snow, winds and subzero cold settle in, winter birds are setting up their feeding regime; where the best choices are for ‘wild’ seed and other food sources…as well as which ‘backyard feeders are where’.

For best results, though, start feeding them anytime of year…and keep it up.

“Still; now is the time of year, clean those feeders, use a 10% Clorox to water solution”, urges Pat Schlarbaum, wildlife technician with the Iowa DNR wildlife diversity program. “The favorites? Nyger and black oil sunflowers are the best offerings to get most of the preferred backyard birds; nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals, house finches, goldfinches. We are also seeing red-breasted nuthatches late in fall. Even a few pine siskins already, an ‘irruption’ of them; indicating pine nuts might be down in their winter range, of Wisconsin, Michigan, even southern Canada. That happens e very few years.”

A sturdy feeder with a steady refill schedule gets you started. From there, though, you can get as involved as you prefer. Your best bet, though, is to offer the ‘good stuff’. You pay less overall, to get higher oil (fat) content before them”, reminds Kyle Votroubek, from Wildlife Habitat; a full service birding retailer in Cedar Rapids. A lot of their customers prefer safflower…which is not attractive to squirrels and sparrows. That leaves more food for the ‘preferred species’.

“Safflower is best. Most (products) have about 20% oil content. However, you’re better off setting 30% oil content”, he suggested. “There is a new golden safflower on the market; 46% oil content; and thinner shells.

And don’t forget water. A ‘birdbath’ with a heater to keep it open during the day– is a big draw for feathered visitors in cold weather. Remember, though, water will evaporate from it faster and needs to be replenished every couple, few days.

Shops like Wildlife Habitat—and there will be a couple around your home, too—even offer cleaning services for your feeders. Though many start at $10 or $15, they—like the feed you put inside—run the gamut. His shop showed sturdy, squirrel proof wire and heavy plastic feeders for $60, even $100 or so; an investment, since you don’t have to replace them every couple years, as squirrels chew off the feeding ‘cups’ or harsh weather or wear and tear from handling crack open the thin, plastic tubes or baskets.

Depending on where you live– woods nearby? A lake?—you will see even more species. “Tufted titmice, if you have woods around”, reminded Schlarbaum. “We had a mild fall, and were seeing a few bluebirds in southern Iowa. For that, if you can supply mealworms or even dried berries, raisins, those will attract or keep them. Of course, suet (with its nearly all fat content!) keeps the woodpeckers; downies, red-headed, red bellied all coming back.

There are even species that take ‘bird feeding’ to another level. “We are getting reports of Coopers hawks, sharp shinned hawks; that their their numbers are good”, said Schlarbaum, noting they are in the area—literally—for the birds. ”If they show up, and you don’t like to have them around your ‘songbirds’, taking one here or there, just take down or don’t fill the feeders for a couple days”, compromised Schlarbaum. “Songbirds will move away. So will the hawks. When you resume feeding, the songbirds find you fairly quickly again.”

Stepping it up a notch

Does feeding and watching birds pique your interest? Take it to the next level! Two popular winter weather activities include the Christmas Bird Count, which gets teams outdoors in a specified area; and the Great Backyard Bird Count, where you simply tally birds seen from your window.

Results are valuable, as ‘citizen scientists’ provide information on wintering birds; especially winter territories and trends, such as movement into new areas.

Though promoted nationwide, a few websites could you get you in on the local level.