For the Birds: Feed your local wintering birds

Friday, December 21, 2012

By Christine Southwick

Bushtits in Vancouver-- photo by Lyn Topinka

Wintering birds may mostly be able to endure our cold and wet winters, but you can make their little lives easier by supplying seeds, fruits, and suet. Additionally they need drinking water, which can be hard to find during freezing temperatures.

Fox Sparrow using heated bath in my yard
Photo by Christine Southwick

Sudden drops in temperature or windy winter storms can challenge the survival of a bird without a good fat layer. At times like these, it is especially helpful to have feeders so that birds can find food quickly and easily. Black oil sunflower seeds and suet are great high-energy heat-producing calories.

See a bird all fluffed up? It’s trying to stay warm by creating air pockets with its feathers. You can help keep them warm by creating brush piles, and having evergreen bushes for them to hunker down away from the chilling winds and some of that Northwest dampness.

Sparrow eating yard Snowberry fruits
Photo by Scott Carpenter

Feeders should be filled throughout the winter, since constant rain can be just as chilling as cold. Watch for clumping, which means the seed is starting to spoil. Throw that seed out since mold can make birds sick, then wash the feeder with a 10% solution of bleach. Don’t want to wash feeders? One option is to buy cheap tube feeders, and put out less each day, so that most of it is eaten every day, or if you are too busy to fuss with daily refilling, put a squirrel baffle over the top of the feeder. That will keep most of the rain from getting into the feeders, and slow down the squirrels too. Then when the feeder starts getting dirty, throw it away, and replace with another cheapie,

Bewick's Wren nestled in porch shelter created by Christine Southwick
Photo by Christine Southwick

Remember your hummer friends too: In cold weather, full hummingbird feeders don’t freeze above 28°F. Colder than 28F, bring feeders in after dark, and put out again at first light. If it stays cold during the day, tape a hand-warmer against the bottom of the feeder, or use non-LED Christmas lights. Anna’s hummingbirds feed well into dusk, and come back at early dawn. They need to fill up to survive winter over-night, and tank up in the morning to replenish their energy levels.

So, when the days are short, and the nights are long, the wild food has been mostly consumed, and insects are scarce. Heat your bird bath, give your yard birds food, and provide shelter from winter weather, and more of your birds will live to see their next Spring.


Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she is sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.

For previous For the Birds columns, click the link under the Features section on the main webpage.


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