Falling for winter

Sherrie Versluis
Feathered Friends

With the lovely Fall season upon us, it is a perfect time to think about feeding wild birds in winter. Getting the right setup ready in fall will help you to attract birds during the fall migration and, let year-round species know your yard will be a place to visit. Manitoba has a great variety of birds in winter with several species only visiting bird feeders in winter. Here are some things to consider to get your yard prepared.

First, we must talk about the benefits to YOU in feeding wild birds during the long, cold winter months. It is no secret many of us become hermits in winter. Some of us because we just don’t enjoy the season but for others it can be difficult to get out and, seasonal affective disorder is also very prevalent in winter. Feeding birds is a great way to connect with nature in winter and there is no question how nature can positively affect our spirit. Watching the constant activity of beautiful birds flitting about the yard really is a joyful thing. Seeing the brightly colored blue jay along with the friendly and loyal black-capped chickadee is something you never tire of! Add the lovely rose-colored red polls-a sweet winter finch, a variety of woodpecker species and the comical nuthatches and you have your own wild bird sanctuary! It is a great way to bring colour and life to your backyard in what can seem like a long, dark season. 

To begin, if you want to keep it very simple, getting a universal feeder that will accommodate all sizes of birds is important. A favourite version is referred to as a tube feeder and good quality ones will allow you to add a tray to the bottom which serves as a landing platform for larger species and will catch any seed that may fall. Fill this feeder with black oil sunflower and you are set to attract a wide variety of birds year-round! It is important to avoid a general wild bird mix as these tend to have a high content of ‘filler’ which causes birds to scatter the seed and throw it all over the ground. Mixes can also attract a lot of house sparrows which are a non-native bird and can be serious bullies to all the birds you want to see. There are premium seed mixes available that don’t contain fillers to help keep things clean.

Suet feeders are a personal favourite of mine. This is the ultimate attraction for many species of beautiful woodpeckers but nuthatches and chickadees also enjoy it. Suet is beef or venison fat that is mixed with nuts and fruit or even insects. Again, the majority of commercial suet sold often has inadequate ingredients and has caused many people to have no success with suet. Look for quality brands that do not contain seed mixes in them. There are many inappropriate recipes to make your own suet that call for lard or bacon fat. Both of these fat sources are not suet by definition and they are pork based which is difficult for birds to digest and, bacon fat is high in sodium. Please use only beef or venison suet if you wish to make your own. If you are adding peanut butter be sure to add an equal amount of corn or peanut meal to aid in digestion as well.

Peanuts are a real treat for wild birds in winter and high in calories. There are feeders designed to offer both peanuts in the shell or shelled. These are a great way to feed blue jays at their own station but will also cater to many other birds too. Always make sure peanuts are raw or roasted only and never salted. You can offer other nuts too like walnuts, cashews etc as long as they are also not salted.

Nyjer feeders are great in winter to attract the finches of the season like red polls but sometimes even American goldfinches can be around in winter. Their plumage changes from yellow to gray in winter so keep watch! Window feeders are a great way for people of all ages to see birds up close and can even deter window collisions. There are pole systems available where you can have several feeders on one station to make it easy to place the feeders in a convenient location for both viewing and filling in winter. 

There are so many options to what you can do to bring some nature into your yard this season and throughout the year. Don’t let those winter blues get you down this season, let Mother Nature come to the rescue with her beautiful wild birds and let the smiles begin. Happy Birding!

Sherrie Versluis owns the Preferred Perch and is an avid birder.

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