December 18, 2015
One of the easiest ways to enjoy wildlife in the comfort of your home is to watch birds at a feeder. You'll be amazed at the variety of birds that will come to your feeder throughout the year. Experts disagree about whether backyard bird feeding will significantly help bird populations. But feeding certainly can help individual birds living near your home.
Some people, like my wife and I, will feed birds year-round. While this isn’t necessary, we enjoy watching the birds that are attracted to our backyard. However, the most critical time to feed birds is during spring and fall migration, when birds need extra energy, and especially during the winter and early spring when other food sources for birds that spend the winter here may be depleted or covered with snow. At this time of year, it’s important to keep feeding birds once you start. Birds may become dependent on your feeders and an interruption in their food supply can stress them.
Set up your feeders in a quiet place where they are easy to see and convenient to refill. Feeders close to natural shelter such as trees or shrubs offer resting places for birds between feeding bouts and a quick refuge if a hawk flies through. Evergreens are ideal, their thick foliage buffers winter winds and offers year-round hiding places from predators.
Be careful not to locate your feeder too close to cover, though. Nearby branches can provide easy access for seed-hungry squirrels and hiding places for bird-hungry cats. A distance of about 10 feet seems to be a good compromise, but try experimenting. You can provide resting and escape cover for ground-feeding birds by placing shrubs or loosely stacked brush piles near your feeders.
There are many types of feeders and different types will be used by different birds. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Bird feeder options include tray or platform feeders, hopper or house feeders, window feeders, tube feeders, nyjer feeders and suet feeders.
Some feeders will come with shields over the top, or you can get optional shields, that discourage other animals such as squirrels or raccoons from jumping down on a feeder from a nearby tree. Notice I said discourage because my experience is these seed robbing critters like to figure out how to overcome any obstacle you might throw in their way. Other feeders will close access to the feed when the weight of a larger animal is detected, but remain open when birds are feeding.
There are just as many types of bird food as there are types of bird feeders. Some of the more common food sources include sunflower seed, proso millet, milo, cracked corn, or mixtures of these seeds... as well as nyjer seed and suet blocks. Different birds will be attracted to different types of seed. So put up a couple feeders and use different types of bird food in different feeders. Don’t forget to scatter a little seed on the ground for those birds that won’t go to the feeders, but will feed on the ground for seed you left them or that other birds scattered out of the feeders.
There are a number of sources of information about birds on-line, but one I have found particularly helpful is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website at www.allaboutbirds.org. They also have a couple of interesting programs where you watch and count the birds that you observe. One of these is called FeederWatch and the other is the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Just as important as feeding birds during the winter is a supply of fresh water. You can purchase birdbath heaters that keep water from freezing during the winter. Besides drinking water, birds need water to keep their feathers clean and fluffy to protect them against cold temperatures.
Remember, bird feeders and waterers make great Christmas presents for that hard to shop for person. For more information on feeding birds, check out www.allaboutbirds.org or contact your local Nebraska Extension office.