This is “For the Birds”, Literally…
By Elaine Cole
…Over 58 million Americans watch the birds and many of them have read or heard that feeding birds in the winter is B-A-D and does more harm than good. Perpetuated myths say feeding birds during fall and winter can prevent timely migrations or cause birds to depend on feeders rather than foraging for food themselves- then the myth jumps to, if you stop feeding birds in winter, they’ll starve to death??!! That is FAR from the truth, and those 58 some-odd million people who have a vested interest in bird watching (and feeding!) should know they are not hurting the birds by feeding them in cold weather! The fact of the matter is, winter may be the most important time to leave feeders up, stocked with seed. Leaving feeders up through winter will not keep migratory birds from flying to warmer climates, instead full feeders will supplement natural food sources for migrating birds and birds that don’t migrate (resident birds), won’t be forced to scour for food all winter long. I will say that to feed or not to feed in cold weather, IS an age-old question –BUT- the truth is these are myths and feeding birds is actually beneficial to their well-being.
Birds migrate regardless of seed in feeders. It’s estimated that wild birds only get 25 percent of food from feeders, the rest is naturally sourced, so full feeders don’t keep birds from migrating. Instead, several triggers urge birds to migrate; like changes in nesting locations as trees lose leaves, less natural food sources, insect decline, winds, temperature drop, and day length. As days grow shorter, many birds get internally restless and head south, taking advantage of lots of natural food sources, and (hopefully!) stocked feeders to help fuel their long flights ahead.
During cold weather, resident birds that don’t migrate, need extra calories to stay warm as they burn lots of energy keeping body temperatures up when temperatures drop. As natural resources decline, resident birds expend much energy in search of food. Providing supplemental food at feeders helps keep birds’ caloric-intake high, supporting them during bouts of brutally cold weather. Providing the right feed for winter and the right bird feeders, including feeder placement, is all quite beneficial.
In wintry weather, birds can use up to 75 percent of their fat stores per night-that’s a big number! Studies show birds with regular access to feeders are healthier, have better feather growth, disease resistance, and more successful reproduction. The right bird feed and feeders attract a wide variety of resident and migrating birds to backyards.
“Not all bird feed is created equal. Cole’s takes exceptional care to select only the top 1 to 2 percent of the highest-quality seeds birds like, with no filler seed ever used. Our “Harvest Fresh Lock” packaging protects nutritional content and doesn’t allow seed to spoil or dry out like other bird feed. No dangerous pesticides, chemicals or mineral oils are ever used, keeping seed safe and as close to natural as possible”, says Cole.
“For cold weather, I suggest black oil sunflower, white proso millet, cracked corn, niger seed, raw peanuts and suet cakes or kibbles to ensure the nutritional benefits of feeders. Offering top-quality feed means less waste and an increase in birds at feeders.
Providing a variety of feed and feeder types increases the diversity of avian visitors. A tube feeder is a “must-have,” these all-purpose feeders keep seed dry and accommodate a wide variety of birds feeding from multiple ports. Specialty wire-mesh tube feeders, designed for birds that cling, can easily dispense tiny, oil-rich niger seeds, protein-packed dried mealworms, and other specialty feed.
For an easy-to-use, one-size-fits-most feeder, select a bowl style with a protective dome that can be raised and lowered to thwart large birds and squirrels while protecting seed from inclement weather. Easy to hang and fill, bowl feeders accommodate any seed, nuts, suet and even chopped fruit.
Invest in larger feeders which hold more seed, like the ‘Tubezilla.” Frigid weather makes energy conservation critical; birds can’t afford to waste time waiting for food if feeders are empty. Large capacity feeders decrease the frequency of empty feeders, while increasing the number of bird visits- And they’ll save you some frigid trips outside to refill feeders,” said Cole.
*It’s always essential to clean out residue before adding fresh seed. Because some feeders can be difficult to scrub, this step is too often ignored. Cole’s tube feeders have a built in “quick-clean” feature; a removable base that with one push of a button, provides easy access to the inside, making scrub cleaning – a vital step in preventing disease – a breeze!
*It’s difficult to find essential, unfrozen water in winter. The fix? A birdbath with an electric heater that’s continuously full and clean.
*Allow leaves to remain under trees and shrubbery which attract birds with shelter, insects, and fallen seeds.
*Protect birds from predators like cats or hawks by hanging feeders in sheltered spots.
*Providing shelter is as simple as stacking branches and brush, preferably in a corner of the yard, away from direct winds. Also, instead of dragging that spent Christmas tree to the curb, put it in a corner of the backyard, for nesting, protection from wind and predators.
It’s important that people know they should keep bird feeders up and full during the winter and that it won’t harm the birds, instead it will be beneficial to their well-being! This is news they want to know!!
All that said, the answer to that age-old question, “To Feed or Not to Feed the Birds in Cold Weather”- is a resounding FEED ‘EM!!
About the Author: Birding expert, Elaine Cole, owner of Cole’s Wild Bird Products, Co., offers timely advice on continuing to feed birds throughout cold weather, and keeping birds safe and healthy.