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Feeding the Birds for the Winter

I have been feeding birds since the first day I saw a Blue Jay in my yard. I quickly ran out and bought two bird feeders and, just this week, purchased two suet feeders for my little chickadees and nuthatches. I love feeding my birds and watch them every morning as I have my morning coffee. Feeding my birds has become a very rewarding and enjoyable hobby. Even more important, I’m providing much needed nourishment during the cold winter months when natural food sources can be hard to find. But before you rush out and buy a feeder, here are a few hints and tips to make bird feeding safer for the birds and more fun for you. Be warned, however, bird feeding can become addictive and, before you know it, you'll find yourself just having to buy "one more feeder." Please remember, this is a commitment; don’t start if you are not going to keep refilling the feeders. It’s more of a commitment than I thought – I just purchased a 30-pound bag of black-oil sunflower seeds. I have found when it’s really cold out, I will have to fill my feeders just about every day, so if you don’t want to spend the money, don’t even get started.

Once you start feeding birds, keep it up until spring comes. Birds will depend on the food you supply and may have a hard time finding other food if you stop feeding them. This is particularly true if yours is the only feeder in the neighbourhood. It's especially important to keep feeders filled during very cold spells. Equally important — make sure the feeders are full at daybreak (you can fill them the night before) because birds need nourishment after a long cold night.

October is the time to start putting feeders out (if you haven’t been feeding birds year-round). Natural food sources are becoming depleted and any nuts or fruit left on shrubs will be used up throughout the winter.

Keep your feeders clean. Wet seeds spoil quickly and can become poisonous. Every so often, empty, dry, and air out feeders. Never use commercial cleansers to disinfect feeders; they are very toxic to birds. Use hot water and scrub well.

Take time to find the right location for your feeders. Put them near shrubs or trees that will provide protective cover for easy escape from predators. Don’t put feeders on or near windows. The glass reflects the foliage beyond and confuses birds, causing them to fly into windows with often-fatal results. Hawk decals and dangling objects help but don't entirely prevent such tragedies.

Metal can become stuck to birds' feet during cold weather, causing the flesh to tear. Avoid metal on seed and suet feeders, using plastic-coated products instead. If you make a feeder from a hard plastic container, make sure you bind the edges with tape.

Birds don't have teeth to chew their food; instead their powerful gizzard grinds seeds, nuts, and berries. But they need grit to help them with digestion. You can supply it by putting out packaged canary grit, finely ground eggshells, very fine gravel, or clean sand.

Peanut butter warning. Many books list peanut butter as an appropriate food for birds. However, because it is so sticky, they can choke on it. If you use it (and I do not recommend it), mix it half and half with wheat germ or melted beef fat. Too much peanut butter can also cause health problems for birds.

Limit the use of bakery products (bread, muffins, etc.). They are low in nutrient value and can cause malnutrition in birds that eat them too often.

Seed: There are many types of seed available, and certain birds prefer specific seeds. A list of birds and their seed preferences is provided below. The most popular seed is sunflower, both striped and black-oil type. Mixed seeds are also popular with feeder enthusiasts, but depending on the type of seed mix, much of it may be wasted. It's best to buy a good quality mix from a store specializing in bird feeding. Thistle or niger seeds are favourites of finches, especially goldfinches and redpolls, and white proso millet is also highly palatable to many birds.

Suet: This attracts many insect-eating birds that are forced to change their diet to fruit and seeds during the winter. Avoid bacon fat, which contains too many harmful chemicals and use beef suet instead. You can buy commercially prepared packages of suet, some with seeds, or you can make your own from suet obtained from a butcher. Melting the suet helps remove impurities. Place the suet in a plastic-coated suet-holder, or smear it into the holes of a suet log. Don't tie it with string; bird’s feet may become tangled in it.

"I don't feed the birds because they need me; I feed the birds because I need them!"



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