When winter snow and freezing rain make summer a far off dream, birds can be a welcome and entertaining diversion. Crowding about the backyard feeder, flitting in and out of nearby shrubbery, and splashing in a heated birdbath, watching the chickadees, sparrows, junkos, woodpeckers and cardinals. And the squirrels. That’s for another day. This has not only been a tough winter for humans, the unrelenting cold and snow cover has made it challenging for wild birds to find food in their natural habitat. Some things we can do to help them make it through to spring is set out food that provides energy. The best winter food for that purpose:
- Black oil sunflower seed:
This has a thinner shell, they’re meatier and have a higher fat content which makes them the perfect winter food since almost all birds will eat them.
This high calorie food is ideal for winter and in the very cold temperatures is in high demand by birds.
Another high fat nut loved by birds such as jays, chickadees and nuthatches. We’ve had woodpeckers go after these as well.
- Nyjer or thistle seed:
A favourite of finches and chickadees, it’s important the feeder is kept dry or the seeds will clump and become moldy.
Planting a backyard with shrubs and flowers that provide food to birds over the winter is another good way to attract and support a feathered population. Seed eating birds such as finches and chickadees enjoy Echinacea well into late winter if the seed heads are left in the fall, and trees and shrubs can be a source of food and shelter from the cold wind. Plants that carry fruit into winter such as winterberry, mountain ash and firethorn provide a natural source of food as well as being attractive in a garden.
It’s important that the feeding stations are positioned to provide safety from predators such as house cats, and raiding by squirrels or raccoons. Look for feeders with baffles to prevent climbing and ensure the feeder is near small trees that birds can quickly fly for cover. Many birds are ground feeders so avoid putting feeders near cover where cats can easily hide.Another important yet overlooked need is a source of water. My sister kids me about our heated bird bath, the “hot tub”, but the birds love it, regularly using it not only for drinking but as long as it’s a sunny day, even at -10C, they will be splashing in the water.
So simple to look after the wild birds, they will reward you in the spring with song and eating bugs.