Monday, November 7, 2011

Bird Feeding in Winter

cardinalI don’t need to tell you winter is coming. Whether you welcome it or not, winter will elbow its way in. Fortunately for birders, we can enjoy our hobby in almost any kind of weather, even it’s from a warm chair in front of a big window. In Wisconsin, we have precious few weekends left before the snow hits, so now is a good time to prepare for a winter of bird feeding. Are you ready?

Last year I finally assessed my motley collection of squirrel-chewed, semi-dysfunctional bird feeders and decided to put an end to the madness. Well, I didn’t exactly throw them away (maybe I’ll fix them someday? Yes, there is some residual madness). But I did get two large tube-style feeders with spring-loaded anti-squirrel perches. What a difference! The new feeders hold much more seed than any one of my old ones. Plus, I wasn’t constantly bursting out of the door in stocking feet to chastise the irreverent squirrels who deftly hung upside down and gulped away, with hungry birds observing from nearby branches. I heard cha-ching with every bite the squirrels took. With higher gas prices, seed is more expensive than in recent years. So by foiling those furry acrobats, I was protecting my investment. Oh, and don't feel sorry for my squirrels. I have numerous walnut and oak trees on the property!

Clean your feeders and if you have the chance, hang your feeders near a bush, shrub, or brush pile where birds can take cover when raptors come through. It’s inevitable that you will lose some birds to raptors over the winter, but providing cover will at least make you feel like you evened the stakes (and as we all know, raptors need to eat, too). If you use a live tree at holiday time, set it near the feeder afterward, where birds will use it for cover until spring.nina-pics-034

It’s good to know that different birds feed differently. Some like to perch, some hang upside down, and some prefer to feed on the ground. (Last winter's project, my ground feeding station, right, was made from a picnic table, lawn chairs, tarp, wood lattice, and an iron grate.)  There are also a number of types of seeds available. If you’re unsure or need a review, check this excellent Winter Bird-Feeding Guide from our friends at Audubon. Personally, I feed black oil sunflower seeds all year around, and add cracked corn and suet cakes in winter. Keep water available, too! A heated birdbath in winter is sure to bring birds to your yard. Click here for Diane Porter’s fine article entitled Winter Water for Birds.

Lastly, keep your binocular handy. Low magnifications (6 or 7x) afford a wide field of view and are more than adequate for observing your feeding stations from the window or deck. A binocular with a close focus under 10 feet is also desirable, especially when feeders are positioned close to the window.

Yes, winter’s coming. Let’s enjoy it! Bringing birds close makes winter so much more fun, so get ready!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

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