Bird Feeding in Winter
In most regions of the U.S. finding food presents a real challenge for birds. Cold weather, especially during the days with extreme cold temperatures, no vegetation and insects to relish make it hard for most birds to feed. That is why many people set up backyard bird feeders to provide the birds with valuable food and enjoy the company of the feathered friends. Observing the birds and counting their number in the backyard you can also help scientists monitor changes in the abundance and distribution of winter bird populations.
Once you have set up a bird feeder you must decide what food to offer to your small guests. You may purchase a commercial mix but be prepared to find there not only sunflower seed that most birds love so much but also a large quantity of less appealing "filler seeds" such as red milo. Another option is to make a good quality inexpensive mixture yourself. Just mix the contents of one 25-pound bag of black-oil sunflower seed, one 10-pound bag of white proso millet, and one 10-pound bag of cracked corn. Make sure you store bird food in a tight, waterproof container. Metal containers are the best choice.
In addition to providing birds with commercial birdseed you can treat your birds with seeds saved from squash, melons and pumpkins. Some birds even love them more than black-oil sunflower. But make sure you air dry them on trays before placing them in your feeders or on the ground. You can even save dry seeds that are free of mold to use during the winter months. However it can be difficult for smaller birds to break open vegetable seeds, so consider running the seeds through a food processor first. Some people also save scraps of stale bread, cake, or other baked products to feed the birds with. That's OK but make sure the food is not moldy as it may be dangerous for the birds. Another problem with using table scraps is that they may attract unwanted gusts like European Starlings, House Sparrows, rats, or raccoons.
To draw insect-eating birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches to your feeders you may offer some high-energy foods like peanut butter or suet (beef fat). You can mix peanut butter with corn meal or oatmeal to offer birds as well. You can purchase plain beef suet in most supermarkets at meat departments. Suet becomes rancid in warm weather, but some commercial suet cakes can be used all year round. You can place the suet in a plastic mesh bag in which onions are sold or in a wire basket if the chances of raccoons visiting your feeder are high. Or you can get premade suet cakes that are offered for sale in most stores that specialize in supplies for feeding birds. Such cakes usually include a mix of birdseeds.
To attract such birds as robins, thrushes, blue-birds, and waxwings consider offering them fruit. Soak dried raisins and currents in water first before placing them in your feeders. Mockingbirds, catbirds, tanagers, and orioles will favor sliced fresh fruit. Just spread pieces of fruit on a platform feeder or put them on a plate right on the ground.
Finally, it's important to provide birds with fresh water. Not only do birds need water to drink but also to bathe in it. In fact, clean feathers ensure the best insulation. You can use an upside-down garbage can lid or a large frying pan as a shallow birdbath which is easy to clean. To make it resemble a natural puddle, just put a container with water in a shallow hole dug in the ground. Put an immersion-style water heater to prevent your birdbath from freezing in the winter. Make sure you clean your birdbath and fill it with fresh water regularly.