If you fill it, they will come. No, it’s not a memorable line from a Kevin Costner movie, but a promise and a warning for attracting and caring for winter birds. If you fill a seed tray or hopper with seed in winter, birds will come, and they will return. As birds learn to expect food from your generous nature, you need to be sure to keep the feeders stocked.
My family enjoys watching the birds visit our feeders through winter. We have our favorite visitors like that pair of sunflower-craving Northern cardinals which will nest in our forsythia come spring; that flock of worm-hungry American robins passing through; the large red-bellied woodpecker hanging from the inverted suet feeder; and the Eastern bluebird “clutch” that huddle around the heated bird bath on a snowy day. Such a splash of color on an otherwise drab winter day!
At Powell Gardens, we share our love for birds throughout the month of February. Come sit a spell in our conservatory themed to Romance in Bloom. Along with a huge burst of color and fragrance, you will find three inviting seating areas where you can enjoy the birds from the comfort of indoors. A couple of other ways to enjoy the birds this month:
- Each weekend through February 23 you can participate in Feeder Watch as a citizen scientist: more information.
- Register to participate in the February 16th Great Backyard Bird Count & Birding Hike on the Byron Shutz Nature Trail: more information.
Feed the Need
When considering which birds you would like to attract at home, note that not all seed is the same. Stick with “song bird” mixes: those with sunflower, white millet and safflower. Avoid the cheaper mixes with filler seed like red millet and oats that most of the desirable birds spurn. Wasted seed becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which if ingested may harm the very birds you are trying to nurture. But which seed to offer should be just one aspect of your winter bird-feeding plan. Other feeding suggestions:
- Offer a consistent source of water. Fresh water is hard to come by when temperatures stay below freezing. Offering water in a heated birdbath will attract a wide array of birds, which may drink or even take a dip.
- Not all sunflowers are the same. Sunflower is a great, all-purpose feeder seed attracting a wide variety of birds. Black-oil sunflower seed is thinner shelled and easier for many bird species to crack. If your feeders are overrun with European house sparrows, consider offering striped sunflower seed. Its thicker shell makes it a tasty treat for Northern cardinals while keeping less desirable birds at bay.
- Mix up your serving styles to attract a wider variety of birds. Larger birds like blue jays and red-bellied woodpeckers will visit open, platform feeders. Perching birds such as black-capped chickadees and tufted titmice can feed from tube feeders and seed hoppers. Sock-style thistle feeders are a sure fire way to attract American goldfinches.
- Offer suet. Suet can be home-mixed or store bought and provides a high-calorie, high-energy food perfect for wintering and nesting birds. Putting your suet in a cage-style suet feeder keeps hungry squirrels from devouring your bird treat.
- Consider mealworms. Dried or fresh mealworms will attract seed-feeder-shy species like American robins and Eastern bluebirds. These can be offered in platform feeders or an enclosed feeder specifically designed to allow small birds like Eastern bluebirds entry while keeping larger worm-hungry birds out.
- Keep it up. Your feeders and water supply should be elevated and in an open space. Positioning your feeders low and in a space near shrubs and ornamental grasses is akin to setting the table for the neighborhood cats. Be sure your birds can see your feeders from a distance and are able to see in all directions while at your feeders.