Gardeners are used to seeing wildlife in their gardens all year long. If you are providing food for the wildlife, particularly the birds during the winter months, you can greatly enhance your viewing pleasure by attracting a larger number and diversity of birds to your yard, adding color to what can be a rather dull winter landscape.
It’s pretty easy to get started with bird feeding. There are many retail stores that carry a wide diversity of bird feeding products including the feed and dozens of different kinds of feeders. It may be something as simple as a ready-to-hang suet feeder, which has a mixture of seeds blended together with suet or a peanut butter type material in the shape of a bell or wreath. Just hang it out in your yard and wait for the birds to find it. While there will be a higher initial investment in purchasing the feeder, once you have it, you just have to refill it as the seed is eaten.
We have lots of different kinds of birds that stay or migrate here during the winter months. They range in size, the type of food they prefer to eat and the types of feeders that work best to feed them. Some small, seed-eating birds, like chickadees, nuthatches and finches like feeders that they can hang on and peck the seed out of a feeder. A tube feeder is a good example of this. It usually has small dowels attached to allow the small birds to perch while preventing larger birds from being able to fit. Or, the feeder may be made of a mesh that is fine enough to contain most of the seed while providing something for the birds to climb on and pull out the seeds with their beaks. Sock feeders are another option. This coarsely woven “sock” also allows birds to pull the small seeds out with their pointed beaks.
Many larger seed-eating birds prefer a larger place to perch while feeding that also allows them to be upright while feeding. They also prefer larger types of seeds like oilseed or the even larger white-striped sunflower. Hopper feeders often work best for these types of seeds and the birds that eat them. Hoppers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes with different amounts of seed storage – the larger the storage area, the less frequently it will have to be refilled. Hopper feeders may have openings of different sizes to admit different sizes of birds to the feed. Sometimes less desirable birds like starlings or grackles can eat large amounts of seeds and discourage smaller birds from feeding. Smaller openings, a coarse wire mesh or even a weight-sensitive cover can help to keep them from getting access to the feed. Squirrels can also be discouraged from feeding in similar types of feeders.
Some birds prefer to feed on a flat surface so platform feeders work best for them. Platform feeders also allow for the highest visibility for you to observe them while they are feeding. This type of feeder can accommodate a wide variety of birds and feed but often will need to be resupplied with feed quite frequently.
Suet cage feeders are also very popular. The feeders are usually inexpensive and easy to hang in the yard. The suet is usually mixed with various seeds or even dried fruit so that it is desirable to a wider range of birds than just woodpeckers. It offers a high-energy food source to birds during the cold winter months.
While you might think you have to have a feeder, there are many kinds of birds that prefer to eat on the ground. You will often see these kinds of birds eating beneath feeders that are hung from trees or other supports in our yard. They will help to catch the crumbs left behind by the often larger birds that were feeding above. It can be inefficient to scatter seed over loose or drifting snow however, if that is going to be your primary means of feeding birds in your yard.
One other important consideration is whether or not you will provide a source of water. Supplying water can attract a lot more birds to your yard than if you just provide food. Heated bird baths are readily available or you can buy a heater to place in an existing bird bath to help keep the water from freezing over. These will generally cost about $50 for a basic unit that will use about 75 watts of electricity.
Once you have chosen the type of feeder you want to use, the next decision to make is where to place it. First consider your viewing options. Where can you place the feeder so that you can comfortably watch the feeding action? Perhaps in view from your kitchen table or an easy chair in your living room or maybe outside your office window but be warned, those birds can be rather distracting! You should also consider a location that will provide some cover and perches for the birds and offer some protection from the wind. Evergreen trees or shrubs are particularly effective in offering wind protection but can obscure your view of the birds. You should also consider how easy it will be for you to get access to the feeders to refill them as they run out of seed. If you have to trudge through a 3-foot tall snow drift, you are less likely to refill an empty feeder than one that is attached to your deck.
Feeding birds can be a great winter-time activity that can extend your gardening interest into new directions. I myself am a novice bird feeder but am looking forward to seeing which feathered friends visit my garden this winter.