Winter Bird Feeding - Iowa Wildlife Federation

Winter Bird Feeding

Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.

If you’re feeding backyard birds, you’ve probably noticed a significant increase in activity during the past few days.  With double digit below zero temps and wind chill values plunging to minus forty, it’s little wonder that our feathered visitors are busily cramming down every bit of food they can find.

Providing a variety of foods will attract the greatest number of species. This female red-bellied woodpecker was attracted to a hanging suet cake.

Strategically installed feeders save wintering birds time and energy.  During periods of extreme weather, such as we’ve endured during the first part of the new year, bird feeders have the potential to increase wildlife survival.  Simply put, bird feeders are good for us and they are good for the birds.

Winter bird feeding can be as simple or as complex as an individual cares to make it.  Sunflower seeds and cracked corn are basic, high-energy foods that are eagerly utilized by most backyard species.  Although both grains can be used in hanging feeders, some birds prefer to feed on the ground.  Offering food at both levels will attract the optimum variety of cold weather birdlife.  Targeting individual species will also increase variety.  Niger seed, for example, will attract the greatest number of finches.  Suet cakes or peanut butter will increase the number of nuthatches and woodpeckers you’ll observe.

Some bird species, such as this handsome Harris sparrow, prefer to forage on the ground. Scattered sunflower seeds and cracked corn are good attracters for ground feeders.

Providing open water is also one of the most important, though most often overlooked, aspect of winter feeding.  Most birds can survive by utilizing snow for water, of course, but melting snow burns excessive amounts of precious calories.  Electric bath pans are the most convenient option for providing water.  If you don’t have one of these, wintering birds can still benefit if you place a pan of warm tap water near feeders.  Pans made of black rubber work better than metal.  During most winter days, the open water will last for at least a couple of hours before it starts to skim over.

Winter bird feeding is a pastime that is enjoyed by millions of Americans.  Feeding birds is something that makes us feel good and, better yet, makes the birds feel even better.

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