I am always amazed when I walk into the hardware store in early fall to see all the bird feeders on sale. As if birds really needed you to feed them in the summer and now, these feeders are useless. In fact, birds really don’t need our help in the summer. It’s nice. They won’t turn down a free meal. But, in reality, there are plenty of seeds, berries, insects, spiders, and nectar for them to eat all summer.
No, birds really need our help in the winter! Throughout the winter, the birds who stay in Nebraska, or migrate from the north to Nebraska, face many challenges…. dwindling seed reserves, frozen berries (or no berries), few sources of non-frozen water, frigid temperatures, and snow-covered food.
It’s this time of year when birds could really use some extra help! The best part is that it is really not all that hard to help our feathered friends!
- Hang a feeder… AND KEEP IT FULL! An empty feeder doesn’t help the birds! Any kind of feeder you hand will be a welcome gift. Thistle feeders are great for American Goldfinches and House Finches. Millet is perfect for Towhees, Mourning Doves, and Sparrows. Peanuts are a favorite of Blue Jays, Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Nuthatches, and Titmice. Or, suet (a mix of rendered fat, seeds, and berries) is a fantastic source of high energy food for Woodpeckers, Flickers, and Nuthatches. For a good all-around food source, black-oil sunflower seeds attract the widest variety of birds.
- Provide a source of fresh, non-frozen water. This one is a little harder especially when the temperature is consistently below freezing. The best way to do this is to invest in a bird bath heater. These tiny heaters sit in the bottom of your bird bath and (with the help of an outdoor electrical cord) keep the water from completely freezing over. The trick is to make sure you always have a source of water in the bird bath. With the dry air in the winter and the heater in the bird bath, evaporation can wreak havoc on your attempts to provide fresh water.
- Provide a warm spot to rest. An old bird house can provide a welcome reprieve from the wind. At the end of the nesting season (about September), clean out the old bird house and replace it outside. Plug any air vents with clean weather stripping or fabric (be sure to remove it before the next breeding season). Often many birds will pile into the house for warmth. In this case, it is not safety in numbers, but rather warmth with numbers!
The beauty of providing a haven for the birds is that you get to watch these amazing creatures all winter long! You will get to know all the different kinds, learn their flight patterns, and become familiar with their habits. And, if you listen carefully, you will hear a quiet, but unmistakable “THANK YOU” from the birds.