Most people think of bird watching in the warmer months, but winter can be a great time to see birds that are not normally around in the summer. It is interesting to learn about the different birds in your backyard. I live in Maryland and birds such as the Black eyed Junco only reside here in the winter. The Junco is also known as the ‘snow bird’ because it arrives in the fall and leaves in the spring. When you see less and less Junco’s late in the winter, you can be sure that spring is just around the corner.
This winter in the month of December I was surprised to see a flock of Robins passing through. I guess they got a late start in their migration this fall. Most people do not realize that Robins do flock to migrate. Some people are lucky to see a few Bluebirds that will stay for the winter as well. I also had the pleasure of seeing a Fox Sparrow at my feeders which is a variety of sparrow that is a bit larger than the other varieties.
A collection of different types of bird feeders will attract the birds so that you can watch them. Hanging feeders work well for smaller birds. Platform feeders are good for the birds that prefer to ground feed such as the Junco’s and larger birds.
If squirrels are a problem I have found the only truly squirrel proof feeder (at least out of all the ones I tested) to be the Squirrel Buster series of feeders made by Brome. http://bromebirdcare.com/
It is also very important to have a heated bird bath. Water is critical and less available in the colder areas of the country. The best heated bird bath that I have tested is the API 20 inch Heated Bird Bath http://www.fleetfarm.com/detail/api-20-in-heated-birdbath-with-ez-tilt/0000000007346
What is nice about this particular heated bird bath is that the heating element is inside the bird bath so even if the deer or other wildlife drinks it dry, the element does not burn out. The heaters that you place in the water directly will burn out if there is no water in the bird bath. I have used the API model for years and it is still working fine.
Another important thing which many people do not think of is to put out some fruit for the birds in the winter. I peel an apple and put it on the shepherds hook and the birds love it.
A variety of feeders and seed will attract a wide variety of birds to your yard. I hang a round feeder with peanuts in it from a window hanger that a fair amount of different birds enjoy.
It is also important to put suet out for the birds. Woodpeckers love suet although they will also pick seeds from the ground. It is easy to make a neat suet feeder by drilling two one inch holes in a thick branch and then stuffing it with suet. I also use a Birdola feeder and stuff it with suet that I purchase from my local butcher.
The primary seed for your feeders should be Black oil Sunflower seeds. They provide the most nutrition that birds need in the winter. I put sunflower seeds in two squirrel proof feeders and a mix of seed in the other feeders. I also spread some on the ground for the birds that do not like to eat from feeders.
To attract the most birds it is important to place your feeders in a location where the birds feed protected. Hanging feeders in trees or near bushes helps protect the birds from predators. However, you will see the occasional falcon or hawk swoop down to try and catch a bird by a bird feeder. Usually they can only catch the weak and sick birds.
Many people do not want to feed the less attractive and larger birds. This is a mistake because those birds help the environment as well. In the summer months these birds will eat more insects and weed seeds.
If you have Bluebirds or other insect eating varieties that winter in your area you can put out dried meal worms for them. You can purchase a special feeder for meal worms. You can also purchase Bluebird nuggets to feed Bluebirds and other insect eating birds.
It is interesting to note that scientists have discovered that Chickadee’s brains grow in the fall and shrink in the summer. The growth is so that the Chickadee can recall where they hide seeds and other food to survive in the winter. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/09/030912072156.htm
When you see birds flying away with seed from you feeder, they eat some and stash others to have when seed is not readily available. This means that even if your feeder runs out before you can refill it; many birds will have saved some seed to stay alive.
In very cold weather, birds have to eat throughout the night in order to maintain their body heat. That means that the seed you provide will contribute to the bird’s ability to stay alive. I have noticed that before a very cold snap or a storm, that the birds are more active at the feeders. I can almost predict the weather by the behavior of the birds.
I continue to feed the birds throughout the year, even in the summer. The benefits of doing this is that the birds eat the insects, keeping my property more insect free in a natural way and they eat weed seeds which means that I have less weeds to pull in my garden. If the birds miss some seeds under and around the bird feeders and they start to grow, spraying the sprouts with white vinegar will kill them without harming the birds.
All in all it is a win-win situation, the birds and the people who feed them both benefit. Birds that live in the city or urban areas especially appreciate your feeding efforts where wild food is not as available as in the rural areas.
You do not have to go outside in the winter to enjoy bird watching. Most of my bird watching is done through my office window.