Dec 4, 2014
If you were waiting for wintry weather to start stocking the bird feeder—you have it. Whether you maintain feeders year-round, or wait until the snow flies; birds set up their cold weather feeding routine as they arrive in the fall, from summer nesting territories. They want to expend as little energy as possible, to stay warm.
The bonus to us? “It’s just a great way to bring the outdoors right into our homes. We can see the songbird activity, hear their cheery calls. They brighten our spirits”, assesses DNR wildlife diversity technician Pat Schlarbaum. For him, the dark-eyed juncos showing up in the fall trigger the alarm to step up bird feeding activity.
The first step is using a weak bleach and water solution; to swab out debris from feeders hanging in the yard or stored since warmer weather arrived last spring. Next up? Run an extension cord and small heating element to the birdbath. “If you are the one providing water for the birding community; you are probably going to have the largest selection of songbirds visiting your backyard”, predicts Schlarbaum.
Should you have just one feeder and one choice of feed…black oil sunflower seed attracts the widest variety of ‘desirable’ songbirds. Cardinals, nuthatches, tufted titmice, bluejays, chickadees flock to sunflower seed. It’s gotten pricey in the last four or five years—since it competes for acreage with corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops. Flip the bag over and check the fat content. The higher it reads, the better it is for birds. Lower priced millet or milo, spread on the ground, is big with mourning doves, sparrows. Be wary of mixes. Fill a feeder with it, and you could end up with much of it scratched out to the ground as birds scratch it out to get to the ‘good stuff’. You may be money ahead feeding the more expensive stuff…and buying less of it overall.
Overall, different feeds attract different birds. Nyjer thistle attracts finches. Suet attracts woodpeckers. Shlarbaum touts sunflower hearts for woodpeckers and titmice, too. As I write this, a downy woodpecker is sitting on my sunflower seed holder. Experiment and see what food sources attract the birds you prefer to see.
You’re not alone, as you fill your backyard hoppers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says 609,000 Iowans watch and feed wildlife. Most of that is keeping winter bird feeders stocked…and watching the feathered palette of color on the inevitable layer of snow in your yard.
Stepping it up a notch
Feeding and watching birds in the yard pique your interest? Take it to the next level. Birdwatching is not a warm weather pastime. 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.
Though promoted nationwide, a couple websites could you get you in on the local level.
Results are valuable, as these ‘citizen scientists’ provide information on wintering birds; especially winter territories and trends, such as movement into new areas.