The birds in winter

Published 10:03 pm Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bird feeders come in countless varieties. However, homeowners that don’t wish to attract raccoons and squirrels also can take steps to ensure only birds can feed on the food left out for them.

Be kind to feathered friends — feed and water them during the winter

As the weather gets colder and food gets harder to find, birds that don’t migrate for the winter could use a helping hand.

Putting out a bird feeder and offering fresh water can help the birds make it through the winter, but it also offers a great opportunity to see new and different avian species.

Ann Weber, a Smithfield Gardens employee, said she has been feeding the birds at her home for many years, and she encourages others to help out.

“Even if you can’t do it all year, it’s nice to do it in the winter,” she said.

When you first put bird feeders in the yard, find out what birds frequent your yard, so you know what foods to pick up.

“All birds don’t eat the same things,” Weber said.

For example, cardinals and finches enjoy sunflower seeds while large songbirds, like doves, prefer safflower.

Additionally, all birds have preferences about how they like to eat — some are happy to perch on feeders hanging from trees and others would rather feed on the ground.

Weber said if you are looking to have just certain types of birds frequent your yard, find out their favorite foods and only put those out.

Also, there are some birds that like to eat insects, so hanging suet, which is raw beef or mutton fat, will attract these kinds.

However, Weber said, suet should be hung with caution because raccoons enjoy it as a snack as well.

If you know you have raccoons, try hanging a suet feeder high and away from the trunks of trees, so raccoons cannot climb to get them.

Weber said raccoons will work hard to get to the suet and will even steal the hanger and take it away to figure out how to get into it.

“If you don’t have raccoons, you can do suet without a problem,” she said.

Another animal that can create problems when trying to feed birds are squirrels, because they enjoy chowing down on the same foods as birds.

In order to keep squirrels away from bird feeder, you can set up a squirrel feeder far away from the bird stations.

Weber said squirrels will be less of a problem if their feeder is kept up.

It you want to keep the critters away altogether, squirrel baffles, which are products designed to hinder the creatures in their attempts to get into feeders, can be used instead.

Weber said when someone is just starting out with bird feeding, some inexpensive methods can be used to try it out.

For example, sacks to hold nyjer seed, which is a favorite of finches, are inexpensive and are hard for squirrels to get into.

Also, people can just opt to put generic birdseed in a small feeder for any birds to enjoy.

If you want to get your children involved, Weber said, bird feeders can be made from pinecones rolled in peanut butter and covered in birdseed.

“They’d be excited to see the birds eat it,” she said.

While feeding the birds is important and helpful, there is something even more useful people can do to help them during the winter.

Weber said birds struggle to find fresh water during the coldest months, so putting water out for drinking and bathing can attract a multitude of avian varieties.

“In the summer months, if water collects, the birds will find it,” she said. “In the winter, if you think about how far they fly for fresh water, the water will bring them.”

In order to ensure the water doesn’t freeze, birdbath warmers can be purchased at specialty stores and online.

Weber said the heaters can be a little pricey, but they attract some beautiful birds and are very helpful for the ones looking for a drink when all other water sources are frozen.