Winter Bird Feeding
I've started feeding the birds in winter, and a few kinds are coming. How can I get more different kinds of birds to visit my feeders?
—Linnea Poe, Minneapolis
To maximize the number of species that visit your feeders, you'll want to offer a variety of food. And offer it at different heights above the ground.
Most birds that stay in cold regions in winter eat seeds.
They have to. Insects are hard to find in freezing weather. So in winter, offer seeds to the wild birds. Here is a selection of seeds that attract a wide variety of birds.
Black oil sunflower seeds
The favorite is sunflower. It attracts cardinals,
woodpeckers, blue jays, goldfinches, purple finches, chickadees, titmice,
and nuthatches. It's good to put most of your sunflower seeds in hanging feeders. It's safer from squirrels and raccoons that way.
Get black sunflower seeds, sometimes called oil seeds, rather than the grey-and-white-striped sunflower seeds sold for people to eat. They're higher in oil content, softer
shelled, and cheaper.
Nyger has replaced thistle as the most popular seeds to feed goldfinches.
Goldfinches adore nyger. You may have dozens of goldfinches visiting your
nyger feeder at once, which is quite a cheering sight on a winter day. Niger
is a black seed, so tiny and light you can blow away a handful with a gentle
Niger is also expensive, over a dollar a pound, so you won't want to
waste it. Buy a hanging tube with tiny holes, designed especially for niger,
like the 36-inch spiral above. Hang it where you can see it from your best viewing window. Up close
to the house, even under the eaves, is fine. Goldfinches will become very
tame and won't mind your standing two feet from them, on the other side
of the window, while they eat.
Safflower is a white seed,
slightly smaller than black sunflower seed. Chickadees, titmice, chickadees, and downy woodpeckers eat it.
The great thing about safflower seeds is that squirrels don't like them. Neither
do grackles, blue jays, or starlings. I bit into a safflower seed myself once and found it extremely bitter.
Millet is the least expensive bird seed. I scatter it on the ground for
sparrows, juncos (like the one at right), and mourning doves.
You can buy these seeds at feed stores, nurseries, supermarkets, and
some hardware stores. I buy everything except the costly niger in 25-pound
bags and store them in the garage in mouse-proof metal trash cans.
Birds love suet. It's the solid fat rendered from beef and venison. It provides concentrated energy to help birds make it through freezing winter days and nights.
Suet is the way to attract woodpeckers to your feeding operation. You can buy suet cakes in the market for a little over $1 each. Always hang suet, so as not to attract mammals.
A word to the wise
One caution. Don't buy bags of mixed birdseed. They contain a lot of filler, such as red millet. Most birds won't
eat it. It gets kicked onto the ground, where stays until it rots. Mixed birdseed is not a bargain. Buy the
seeds you know your birds want.
When starting up a feeding program, be patient. It may take as long as
several weeks before the birds discover your feeders. While you wait, be
sure to keep the feeders filled. Eventually, the birds will come.
Water — the great gift
Sometimes the birds suffer more for lack of water than
food. And they need it all year around, including in the winter. There are
wonderful bird baths available for providing
unfrozen water in winter, as well as in summer.
And when that first storm hits, they'll show up. Hungry. Chirpy
and chattery. Red and blue and black-and-white and yellow. Fun
to look at on a cold winter day.
— Copyright 2008 Diane Porter
— Photos copyright 1999-2008 Michael and Diane Porter
What if you won't be home all winter?
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