Feeding Winter Birds
Kitty Smith, Indian Trail Master Naturalist
Long, cold winter nights can be hard on wild birds. You can help them out by providing supplemental feed and water in your backyard. Your reward will be a wonderful array of twittering birds for hours of joyful watching. Sound like something you’d like to do? Here’s how:
First select a seed type and a delivery (feeder) system. Not all bird seed mixes will suit all wild birds. Some birds, including finches and grosbeaks, eat only seeds and nuts. Others, such as chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, rely on both plant and animal sources of food. Birds will often sort through mixed seed and discard what they do not want. Typically, less waste occurs if you provide only one type of food per feeder, rather than mixed birdseed. Insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches, will benefit from suet feeders in the wintertime. Experts recommend black oil sunflower seed as one of the best single seeds to attract a variety of birds to your feeder. I use this exclusively and have a large variety of birds in my backyard.
Unfortunately, I have also attracted grackles. The Common Grackle (Quiscalus Quiscula) is a large, black bird with glossy, iridescent plumage. Grackles like all kinds of bird seed and will descend on feeders (sometimes in numbers), eat large quantities of bird seed and discourage smaller birds from feeding. One of the best ways to prevent Grackles from feeding at your bird feeder is to use a tube feeder with a cage surrounding it. If you are using suet as a feed for birds, be sure to use a feeder that only allows access to the suet from the bottom. This means that to feed, the bird must either hover or cling upside down, something grackles do not like to do. With the grackles under control you can focus on attracting and watching the smaller birds you love.
Providing water to attract birds to your yard is as important—perhaps more important—than feeding them. Birds need water to drink and to keep their feathers clean. There are many ways to provide water to birds, but birdbaths are the most common water sources. A plastic or metal birdbath is easier to manage and less likely to freeze and crack in winter than concrete or clay. Make sure that the water is no deeper than 2 inches in at least part of the birdbath. Birds need to be able to stand in the birdbath without being submerged. Change the water in the birdbath every two to three days, and give the birdbath a good scrubbing once a week. You can insert a bubbler to circulate the water, which will help control algae and mosquitoes, as well as attract more birds to your birdbath.
Once you start feeding wild birds, continue throughout the cold season. Locate your bird feeder in a sheltered area, out of the pounding rain and howling wind, so feed stays dry. Keep your feeder a safe distance – at least eight to 10 feet – from protective shrubbery where marauding house cats might lurk. Clean feeders regularly to prevent diseases. Scrape bird droppings and moldy food off feeders and rinse or wipe clean with a disinfectant solution of one part vinegar to 20 parts water. Allow feeders to dry before refilling. Just a little bit of work will bring a huge reward for you as you watch the cornucopia of birds come and appreciate the winter plunder.
You are invited to attend our free, open-to-the-public, monthly program on the fourth Monday of the month at 7 pm at the Red Oak Library, 200 Lakeview Pkwy, Red Oak, TX. For more information on the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or visit our website: https://txmn.org/indiantrail/.