Because winter’s cold temperatures and scarce food make survival more challenging for wildlife, this is the best time to feed the birds.
“It’s not that the birds couldn’t survive; we simply make their lives a little easier, particularly when the weather is grim,” says Sue Wells, executive director of the National Bird-Feeding Society. Disappearing habitat has added to that struggle, she says.
“With all changes man has created in natural habitat of birds and other wildlife, life is simply tougher for the birds because things that once existed at one time are no longer there,” Wells says, noting that open land that once nurtured birds increasingly is paved and subdivided.
“People say we shouldn’t interfere and that bird feeding is artificial. It’s hard to accept that as an argument; we’ve already interfered badly,” she says. “Now we can err on the side of good.”
The bird-feeding society suggests these tips to help birds survive winter:
- Put out two or three feeders so more birds can feed at one time. This reduces overcrowding at each feeder and the potential for spreading disease.
- If snow falls, stamp down snow underneath feeders to help ground-feeding birds.
- Use dome baffles, most commonly thought of to slow down squirrels, to keep snow off tube and globe feeders. They keep the seed drier and help shelter feeding birds.
- Create a windbreak for your feeders. It can be as simple as a discarded Christmas tree or a few pine boughs firmly angled upwind.
- Water may be hard to find, especially in harsher climates where lakes and rivers freeze, so keep your birdbaths out. Consider using a submersible heater or thermostatically controlled birdbath so songbirds can drink and bathe.
- Add suet to your birds’ diet. Suet, which comes from beef fat, is a high-energy food that gives birds an additional boost to survive the cold. Buy commercially prepared suet cakes or make your own and add goodies such as cornmeal, raisins, small chunks of apple, oatmeal or bran, peanut butter, or wild bird seed. Recipes are available at the National Bird-Feeding Society’s website at www.birdfeeding.org.
- Feed them peanut butter as an alternative to suet. Either pack it into holes drilled in a small log and hang, or, for a winter day project, let children smear pinecones with peanut butter, then roll them in bird seed and hang these treats from tree branches.