Winter is hard on our avian friends. Their food sources may be under a blanket of snow. Cold temperatures, snow and ice challenge their reserves. According to Sean Grace, director of the Sharon Audubon Center, chickadees, for example, have a 24- to 36-hour fat reserve, which, if not replenished, can cause them to starve to death.
“Supplemental feeding definitely helps the birds in winter,” he explained. “They can find wild grape, fox grape, bittersweet and other berries, but the availability of these is often diminished.”
We spoke to Mr. Grace, who has been the new director at the Audubon Center for the last nine months, about what kinds of bird feeders and seed mixes are best for what kinds of birds.
“The tube-style feeder is good for mixes and black-oil sunflower seeds. The black sunflower seeds have been hybridized to make the hull softer to obtain the oil more easily, which makes the seeds easier to crack for the birds. The striped sunflower, which has a harder hull that is harder to crack, attracts the evening grosbeaks and the cardinals.”
Mr. Grace explained that most inexpensive seed mixes have ‘junk fill’ in them.
“We have a special mix that is specially blended for us to attract and support the birds of our area. It is called “Northwest Corner Blend” and has 40 percent black-oil sunflower, white millet, safflower, split peanuts, 10 percent cracked corn, and 5 percent dried cranberries.”
Other blends available at the Audubon Center sound good enough for people to eat and even include shelled pumpkin seeds, pistachios, almonds, cashews and pecans. The Aspen Song Nut & Fruit Woodpecker Blend also has sunflower kernels, steam-crimped corn, raisins, dehydrated cherries, dried cranberries and dried blueberries.
Some birds are scratch feeders and enjoy feeding off the ground, such as mourning doves, sparrows, juncos and cardinals. Putting suet out targets the insectivores, such as the woodpeckers, both downy and hairy, and the tufted titmouse. Suet has a high fat content and is particularly helpful in winter.
Finch feeders with a small black seed called Niger attracts goldfinches and housefinches.
It is also helpful for the birds to provide water in winter. A dish of warm water can be put out in the morning and changed daily. There are dishes available that prevent the water from freezing.
Another essential for birds is nearby cover, such as bushes and evergreens. The cover protects the songbirds from Accipiters, or birds of prey, such as sharp-shinned and Cooper hawks, which are songbird predators.
Squirrels are the bane of birdfeeders. There is a No Squirrel Blend at the Audubon Center that has cayenne in it, which repels the squirrels but does not affect the songbirds, since they cannot taste it.
There are custom-designed anti-squirrel feeders. The rule of thumb is six feet off the ground and six feet away from branches, explained Sean Grace.
“Some people use an exclusion device, such as a pole with an upside-down coffee can around it.