Food is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of ways to help the birds in winter. Birds need lots of calories to stay warm, and we can help by providing high fat foods such as black oil sunflower seeds, nuts, suet and cracked corn. At the very least, offer black oil sunflower seeds and suet. Both these foods have a very high-fat and protein content and birds will flock to them both. The type of feeders you use are up to you, but platform feeders are very versatile.You can use them for any type of seed and even place suet cakes on them. If squirrels are a problem, try putting out a critter block just for them.
Mixes that contain millet, corn or canary seed are good for attracting ground feeding birds such as juncos, doves and sparrows. Sprinkle it on the ground under bushes or put on a ground feeder. And don’t forget the finches. Goldfinches, redpolls and siskins frequently arrive in large flocks. They love sunflower seeds, but if you want to give them a real treat, feed them Nyjer seed in a fabric sock or a feeder made expressly for this seed. Other choices that birds love would be peanuts, peanut bits, and insect foods such as mealworms or suet containing dried insects.
Keep extra supplies of food and suet on hand for last minute emergencies when the weather turns too nasty to go to the store. Both seed and suet can be kept fresh and away from critters if you keep it in the freezer. If you’re storing your extra foods in the garage or a shed, make sure the container is chew-proof and locks down securely. And keep some extra feeders on hand. After a big winter storm, birds will appear in droves, looking for food. You’ll want to make sure everyone has a place to eat and you won’t have to fill the feeders as often. Be sure to check your feeders regularly and clear snow from feeding ports and off of platform feeders. And don’t forget that feeders should be cleaned in the winter just as often as in summer. Use a mild disinfectant solution such as one part bleach or vinegar to nine parts water.
Cold winter wind saps energy and warmth from birds, especially at night. Birds are able to lower their body temperature to conserve calories at night, but a chilling wind can tax that system. A good way to help the birds stay warm is to leave your nesting boxes up all winter. Stuffing hay or dried grasses inside will provide some insulation and the box will serve as a cozy place for birds to get out of the elements. Blocking the ventilation holes will help too; you can stuff hay in the openings or anything else that will keep out the drafts. Roosting boxes are even better. These have the entry hole at the bottom and perches inside. Birds perch toward the top of the box where the air is warmer.
Water is important in winter because often there isn’t any snow, and natural water sources are frozen solid. Use a birdbath heater or a heated birdbath. Place the bath away from the feeders so that shells and seeds aren’t dropped in the bath. And locate it near a tree so birds can quickly reach a place away from predators to dry off if they bathe in the water.
Keeping these tips in mind will help keep the birds healthy all winter, and in return, you will be rewarded with knowing you’ve helped some birds survive the winter–besides having lots of winter visitors.