Feeding wild birds can be an enjoyable and educational experience for the whole family. Providing food for wild birds in winter is beneficial as their natural food sources begin to decline this time of year. Insects are dead or hibernating, berries and nuts become scarce, and water can be hard to find. By supplying a reliable source of food you can attract birds to hang around your garden all year long. Not only are they fun to watch, but they can provide valuable insect control in the warmer months.
To attract the largest variety of birds use several types of feeders. Some birds, like cardinals, prefer to eat off of the ground or from a platform feeder. Other birds prefer to perch either sideways or front facing to feed, so peg perch feeders will attract different mixes of birds than ring perch feeders. Finches prefer tiny seeds that require a special feeder or “sock” to hold them. And if you like to attract woodpeckers, a wire mesh feeder mounted on a tree works. Make sure your feeders are located in a sheltered area out of the wind not too out in the open since many birds prefer to feed near bushes or trees for safety. It may take some time for birds to find a new feeding area, so be patient. If your feeders don’t seem to be attracting many birds, you may need to move them periodically until the ideal location is found. Providing fresh, clean water near your feeders will also help attract more birds.
Keep feeders filled and clean regularly with soap and warm water followed by a sterilizing solution of one part bleach to four parts water. Check the seed ports regularly to remove blockages, though this is not usually a problem if you’re using high quality seed with little debris.
What types of food will attract birds attract birds to your feeders? In winter, many birds prefer high-energy foods like nuts, berries and suet. Cardinals love black oil sunflower seed, finches as noted before like small seeds like thistle and Nyjer®, but will also enjoy sunflower chips. Woodpeckers are attracted to peanuts and dried fruit. A well-formulated bird seed mix will attract many different species, and you can use different mixes or components in your different feeders to attract specific types of birds. Look for a Songbird blend or Fruit and Berry/Nut and Berry mixes and Finch mixes, and add unblended selections to other feeders like black oil sunflower seed, safflower seeds or thistle. See what your outdoor pets like best.
Once birds start frequenting your garden for food, you can encourage them to stay by providing houses. You can use simple utilitarian birdhouses, or look for fun decorative birdhouses that serve as both shelter and yard art. Many birds start nesting in February, so having one ready soon will keep them around. Make sure the house or nesting box you choose can be cleaned, and mount them in a suitable place for the species you want to attract.
(Originally published January 2013)