Helping Birds in Early Spring

March 7, 2011

For some of us, it may not seem like spring is on its way with all the snow we’ve been getting.  But snow or not, mating season is starting and our wild birds need our help more than ever!  Have you been listening to the birds?  The Northern Cardinal is belting out his “cheer, cheer, cheer” call–a sure sign that he’s staking out a territory.  And the male chickadees are singing their “Fee-bee” song, most often used during mating season in spring.

With all the snow and bad weather, the birds have had a rough winter.  Any remaining food sources, such as berries and seeds are bent over and buried under heaps of snow.  And freezing weather may be locking  up water supplies.  Hopefully everyone has been feeding the birds and providing ice-free water.  But now birds are under even more stress.  Not only are they struggling to survive, but now they are competing for territories and mates, which require even more energy reserves.  Here’s a checklist to make sure you are doing as much as you can to ensure healthy birds and thriving broods this spring:

Foods

Choose seed mixes that contain more than half black oil sunflower seeds. These seeds contain the highest fat content per seed, which provides birds with the extra calories they need during stressful times.

Be sure to offer suet.  Suet is rendered beef fat and it’s  an important staple, especially during cold weather.  Birds love it and it gives them lots of calories in a very concentrated form.

Don’t forget to offer other high fat, high protein foods whenever possible, such as peanuts, and tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pecans.  And fruit is helpful also.  Many winter birds are attracted to dried cranberries, blueberries, chunks of apple or even bananas.

If you have Pine Siskins or Goldfinches, offer them Nyjer seed in a Nyjer sock or Nyjer feeder.  These tiny seeds are packed with nutrition and are especially loved by all finches.

Water

Fresh water is important all year long, but when water sources are frozen over, birds may take to eating snow or drinking the water dripping from icicles.  It takes a lot of energy to heat ice-cold water or snow up to body temperature–energy that’s better spent foraging and keeping warm. Providing heated water with a bird bath heater or a heated bird bath helps birds conserve energy and when the air is warm enough, birds may even bathe in the winter.  Clean feathers are important because they insulate better in cold weather.

Shelter

Leaving your bird houses up all winter is a good idea because birds often use these as a shelter to escape cold, windy nights.  It’s a good idea to stuff the ventilation holes with hay or rags, but if you didn’t do that this fall, keep it in mind for next winter.  Winter roosts can be lifesavers for birds in winter.  They’re specially built with the entry hole at the bottom so the heat inside the box rises and stays at the top where the birds perch. If you don’t have several roosts up around your yard, this is another thing you can plan on setting up over the summer so they’ll be ready when winter comes around again.

Another excellent way to provide shelter for birds and other animals is with a brush pile.  This is nothing more than a pile of sticks, branches, weeds and refuse in a corner of your yard.  The pile gets covered in snow and the air spaces in between the dead branches provide an insulated, draft-free place for birds to hide, forage and seek shelter.

Just remember to keep your feeders full of nutritious foods, keep the water flowing and if you haven’t started a brush pile or put up roosting boxes, be sure to keep those things in mind when you’re finally able to get out and do some spring yard cleaning!

 

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

DIANE LEONE March 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I HAD 2 CARDNALS LIVING IN THE EVERGREEN TREE OUT BACK ALL WINTER I THINK THEY HAD 3 BABYS THAT ARE NOW EATING AT THE BIRD FEDERS BUT THE MOM AND DAD CARDNALS ARE GONE COULD YOU TELL ME WHY VERY DISAPPOINTED IREALLY ENJOYED SEEING THEM AND FEEDING THEMEVERY DAY

Duncraft March 21, 2011 at 11:04 am

Hi Diane,
It’s almost impossible to tell why one year you’ll have certain birds and then next year you don’t. The parents probably moved off to another territory. One area can support just so many of the same species of birds. Hope this helps!

Nancy Homes March 23, 2011 at 10:13 am

Every supplier of wild bird seeds will tell you that in the spring the birds need food that is high in fat content. However, in this part of the country (Madison, WI) the starlings and blackbirds are back. If I leave the oil seed, the suet and the peanuts out, the feeding station will be overrun by these nuisance birds who keep all the other birds away. If I want to feed any other birds, I have no choice but to feed safflower seed only. Adjustable weight feeders are really no help in this situation, as you have to set the weight mechanism to allow for several birds of different weights to feed at the same time.

rjvr March 25, 2011 at 1:44 am

My tiny garden allows that I feed my birds a meal set out in low bowls on a garden table, brunch and later, high tea, that is consumed by all within an hour. No waste. They know when it’s mealtime! But so too do the local tribe of marauding pigeons, who decimate the several selections of seed and fruit in seconds. I’ve tried branch barriers, areas of bird netting, physically shooing them away with noise, chasing them, all to no avail. Don’t want bird feeders. Our birds large and small socialize at the fresh warm water and bowls on the table, waiting a turn in nearby branches of leaning heavenly bamboo. How to eliminate the bully pigeons from this picture?

CarolC March 31, 2011 at 6:11 pm

There is a fairly large pond in the center of my housing complex. Over the years it has taken over a life of its own! Every year more and more birds are showing up to nest. We are close to a Wildlife Preserve that borders our river. We have even had an Osprey, Great Blue Herron, an American BIttern and lately a small flock of Merganser Ducks stop by to feast on the many Koi/gold fish that inhabit the pond. It’s tremendously exciting.
We also have four pair of Mallard ducks who live on the pond year round. Every year the 4 females lay eggs but none ever hatch as the eggs are so thin shelled. I would like to supplement their wild diet with a healthy food to help them breed more successfully and be in better health all round. Can you suggest a supplemental feed for this purpose? Also something that can be feed year round, especially in winter when the aquatic plants are few and far between.
I have encouraged our residents not to feed them left over bread, sugary cereals, etc. They have finally backed off that a lot…but some still do it. If I could have a natural food for them and pass it out to the residents to feed this would accomplish a lot of bad feeding habits of the locals.
Thanks so much for any information you can give me on the care and feeding of wild Mallards.
Carol

R. Brune--Duncraft April 4, 2011 at 7:58 am

Hi Carol and rjvr– Not sure what to do about your pigeons. If you’re just putting out food in bowls and don’t want to go the feeder route, there really is no way to stop them.
Carol, we’re not really wildfowl experts. I would suggest contacting your local Audubon Society for advice and checking if you should be feeding the ducks. If they say it’s ok, then I would go to your local feed store and get advice from them as to what commercial duck food is best.

Marcia Pavich April 13, 2011 at 10:32 am

Bread is terrible for ducks as it tends to get wet and moldy, and then makes the ducks ill. As for what to feed them to help ensure stronger eggs and thus better chance for hatching healthy ducklings, local feed stores will have special duck chow or egg-a -day, or even calcium supplement that can be added to regular feed. I have ducks living on the small lake I live on, and even with all the predators around, each nesting season brings a large number of healthy new ducklings to our ever growing group!

Anne Eastman March 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Nuthatches were nesting in a box on tree near feeder. Eggs hatched. Came home and found feathers everywhere. No cats in area. What could have killed them and what can I do about it? It sickens me.

R. Brune March 26, 2012 at 10:36 am

Anne, we’re sorry that happened. If it wasn’t a cat, it certainly could have been a squirrel or maybe a raccoon or even another bird. I would mount the house on a pole, put a pole baffle on it and move it away from the bird feeders. Feeders can attract aggressive species and without having a pole baffle under the feeder, squirrels and snakes can easily access the nest. Put the house somewhere where squirrels can’t jump to it from a fence or tree or even a building. Again, it’s sad when a nest gets raided and we’re sorry that happened.–Duncraft

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