Backyard feeding is for the birds

Give the birds that visit your yard what they need during the winter by providing them with food and water, and treat yourself to the pleasure of watching them.

Although the weather has been mild so far this month, that doesn’t mean the birds that are around couldn’t use a little extra food and water.

As food supplies for birds become scarce it leaves the birds that winter here in a very stressful situation, so give the birds that visit your yard what they need during the winter by providing them with food and water and treat yourself to the pleasure of watching them.

Winter bird feeding is a commitment that should continue throughout the winter because the birds will quickly become dependent on you to provide food for them.

Birds should be fed daily, and during severe weather twice-a-day feeding is often necessary. Remember that while many species prefer to utilize hanging feeders, others would rather feed on the ground. Place platform or tube-type feeders and food on the ground where the birds are protected from predators and wind while feeding. A good choice for feeding is a spot within about 10 feet of cover, such as bushes or trees, and well away from windows that birds might fly into. Placing feed and feeders a reasonable distance from cover makes it difficult for cats and other predators to attack birds while they’re feeding.

There are many commercial bird feed mixtures available at supermarkets or garden centers, but many of them contain lots of filler materials. Cracked wheat, red millet and milo, which are often found in seed mixtures, are not favorite food items. Birds prefer oil sunflower seed and cracked corn. Other favorites are shelled, unsalted and dry-roasted peanuts, safflower seeds, niger or thistle seed and peanut hearts.

Overall, oil sunflower seed is a universally good ration that has higher food value and nutmeat to shell ratio, which makes it more nutritious for birds than the striped sunflower seed that people prefer to eat.

Regardless of what you feed, it will cost less if you buy it in large quantities. Buying seed in 50 pound bags is more economical than buying smaller bags.

Suet is an excellent source of energy and can be easily and inexpensively obtained at local stores. Simply put it in a mesh onion or orange sack or a commercial suet feeder and suspend it from a branch near the trunk of a tree.

Suet cakes can be made by melting beef or pork fat in the microwave, then pouring it into an ice-cube tray to harden. Add sunflower seeds, rolled oats, yellow cornmeal, small chunks of peanuts, millet, apple pieces, chunky-style peanut butter or raisins to the liquid. Let the mixture harden in the freezer before bagging and hanging in a tree. Some people also add dehydrated egg, syrup, honey or brown sugar to the mixture. Be sure to hang suet cakes high enough that dogs won’t be able to get them.

There are plenty of items most of us have in our kitchens that we can put out for birds, like fruit and nuts, which are a nutritional food source for many types of birds.

Apples, oranges, bananas, and raisins will bring your backyard to life with robins, cardinals and woodpeckers to name a few. Apples and oranges impaled on a nail in a tree are very appealing to many birds. Bananas, raisins, crushed nuts and sliced watermelon in a feeding tray with day old bread, broken cookies, biscuits, crushed egg shells and mealworms will also make a tasty treat for many birds.

During the winter months birds also require water not only for drinking but also bathing. Frequent bathing allows a bird to keep its feathers clean, providing better insulation. A bath followed by feather preening keeps a bird’s feathers intact and healthy, helping regulate a steady body temperature. This is extremely important in the winter months.

The need for open water any time of the year is such an attractant that many species of birds show up more for the water than they do for the food. Birds have to drink year round just as we do to avoid dehydration. Birds do not have salivary glands so they need water for digesting their food.

When providing water for birds, always keep it clean. Water can be kept from freezing in a heavy rubber hog pan by placing a water heater with an automatic thermostat that will shut the heater off if the water gets too warm or the pan gets dry. A rock placed in the middle of the pan weighs it down and provides perching and drying areas.

Birds also need grit in the winter to help them digest food.

If there is a lack of grit, like small gravel in your area, offer the birds poultry grit or crushed eggshells. One way is to mix seeds into the grit and place the mixture on a tray on the ground.

Providing food and water to birds can be very entertaining and educational, not to mention attractive to a backyard.

It also helps our fine-feathered friends survive in the colder months when food and water supplies may be limited.

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