As winter approaches, we are not the only ones feeling the chill. Many birds have migrated south, but some are well adapted to the cold. One of the joys of winter, in my opinion, is seeing all these birds on the feeders (Figure 1).
Have you ever wondered what kind of bird food to get or why there are so many options? It has to do with the kinds of birds you have or hope to attract. Birds come in many shapes and sizes, and that includes their beaks. A bird’s beak is a specialized tool that is very good at picking, cracking, and eating some foods, but not all. It’s like if you had a big plate of spaghetti. You would choose a fork not a spoon. So a bird’s beak is good for some foods and not the best for others. So what birds can you expect on your feeder this year if you live in the Midwest? Do you know what kind of feeder and food is best for them? That, my friend, is the subject for today.
One bird that you will probably see is one of my personal favorites, the Black-Capped Chickadee (Figure 2A). This little bird is quite common throughout the U.S. and will visit a variety of feeders and eat large and small seeds and really go for a suet block. American Goldfinches (Figure 2B) are another small bird that can eat a variety, but will especially appreciate if you have tube feeder filled with thistle seeds. If you put out some fruit, you might be fortunate enough to see a Cedar Waxwing (Figure 2C). These beautiful birds do best with a platform feeder and will be attracted to any fruiting trees or shrubs in your yard. Dark-Eyed Juncos (Figure 2D) are another common feeder bird. They will eat just about any kind of seed1 and specialize with ground feeding so don’t bother cleaning up fallen seeds. They will do that for you.
The White-Breasted Nuthatch (Figure 3A) is a wonderful little bird that will enjoy a variety of seeds, suet, and maybe even some mealworms on your feeder. They do well with a variety of feeders and will appreciate a nearby tree. You’ll enjoy watching them flip sideways and upside down along the tree trunk. House Finches (Figure 3B) are a pretty little bird with a beak ready for sunflowers. They do well with many feeders and can be confused with the similar looking Purple Finch (Figure 3C) which eats very similar foods. The Tufted Titmouse (Figure 3D) is a very cute bird, and they do well with a variety of seeds and feeders.
Last but not least, I have to cover the well-known Blue Jays (Figure 4A) and Northern Cardinals (Figure 4B-C). These large birds will really like your larger seeds like sunflowers but will eat a variety. The jays will also enjoy suet feeders1. Watch out though. They can hog the feeder.
Since we are talking about feeding birds, don’t be surprised if you attract other birds to your feeder like Cooper’s Hawks (Figure 5A) and Sharp-shinned Hawks (Figure 5B). These raptors eat birds and will be drawn to the crowds around your feeders. The have short wings, long tails, and long legs for maneuverability and catching prey on the wing. They look very similar, but you can learn to tell them apart at www.feederwatch.org. Keep in mind these magnificent birds need to eat too, but careful feeder placement can reduce predation.
So when you are choosing a place to put a feeder, there are a couple things to consider. One is that all these birds are going to attract the attention of the hawks we talked about and house cats. Make sure there are areas around the feeder that the birds can hide in if they are threatened. It could be a small evergreen tree or even a type of shrub. This will help the birds feel safe and more attracted to the feeder.
On a similar note, make sure that the feeder is placed high enough that cats cannot jump up to the feeder and the seeds are safe from hungry deer. Now squirrels are another challenge and not an easy one to solve. You don’t need to buy an expensive “squirrel-proof” feeder. There are several home-solution ideas available. Check out the following websites for tips using everything from a toy slinky to plastic water bottles.
For information on the different types of feeders, visit http://feederwatch.org/learn/feeding-birds. You also don’t have to buy fancy bird feeders. Visit the following website for homemade bird feeder ideas and make it a family project, http://happyhooligans.ca/32-homemade-bird-feeders.
Bird watching doesn’t have to just be a hobby. You can use your feeder to be a part of science too. Through Feeder Watch and The Great Backyard Bird Count you can install a feeder, count the bids that visit and upload the data for scientists. You can also see the results of previous years and search by species, area, and time frame. It’s a pretty fantastic way to take your bird feeding one step further. If you are not confident in your bird identification skills, the FeederWatch website can help you out. I personally like my bird book, but a couple other websites have ID help too. For example, www.allaboutbirds.org.
There are also several bird ID apps for different phones and tablets. Check out these websites to see what will work best for you.
So, I hope this has got you excited to see all the birds this winter. I know I am. Come back for the last post of the year to learn about how reptiles and amphibians make it through the cold. It’s pretty amazing.