My boys are thrilled as today was the first snow day of the 2008/2009 winter season. Fortunately for me I’m ready for Christmas so it just means we will start our Christmas holidays a little early.
Despite the driving snow, our feathered friends are still out in full force. Although I have planned my garden to include many seed and berry-bearing plants to provide natural food in the garden for the birds, adding a few feeders is a great way to supplement their diet and attract a wider variety of birds to your garden in winter.
Although I love to feed the birds all season long, the birds will really appreciate your help in summer and winter when there is less natural food available to them. Some seed eaters you can attract include cardinals, chickadees, finches, nuthatches, titmice, sparrows, juncoes, jays, doves, woodpeckers and grosbeak. Juncoes, doves, and other ground feeders will be attracted by seed that falls on the ground. If you catch your seed in dishes below your feeder, consider putting some trays on the ground for these species. Finches, on the other hand, prefer hanging feeders filled with nyger (black thistle) seed although I find they eat sunflower seeds just as well.
I put out several types of feeders which offer sunflowers, nyger seed and suet. Suet is high in fat and very useful in winter to replace energy lost by the birds in the cold weather. The woodpeckers are particularly attracted to suet feeders. I have tried sunflower seed in the wire mesh tube feeders but found much of it fell to the ground. Although the seed will still be there as the snow melts next time I’m going to try unsalted peanuts hoping there is a little less lost to the ground so quickly.
If seeds sprouting under feeders as a result of feeding birdseed bothers you try ‘cooking’ the seed in the microwave to prevent this. Put the seed in a paper bag or large microwaveable container on high for 5 minutes to sterilize the seed and prevent germination. Please don’t put out the seed until it has cooled as it causes moisture condensation inside your feeder which just leads to mold and mildew. Another option is to try using safflower or peanut hearts. These seeds will not germinate under feeders, and birds love them. I find taking a trowel to the ground under the feeder four or five times a season before the sprouts take hold solves most of the problem however.
As for the best natural food sources consider planting some of my favourites including dogwood, serviceberry, black cherry, barberry, burning bush, hawthorn, holly (including our native deciduous holly) and viburnums. Leave some seedheads from echinacea, black-eyed susan and other perennials as well.
Happy bird watching while you sit indoors with a nice hot chocolate!