Winter Bird Feeding
by Ro Wauer
If you feed birds, you are in good company. More than 43 percent of all U.S. households, or about 65 million people, provide food for wild birds. Although our birds in South Texas rarely face the harsh winters as those in the much colder northern portion of the country, even Texas birds can use a handout now and then. And almost all birds will take advantage of opportunities to feed when given the right foods.
Seed feeders usually are the most common bird feeders. They are readily available at many types of stores, from nature stores to supermarkets. But the best seed is not always so available. Most wild bird seed is packaged in bags so it is next to impossible to know what you are buying. These wild bird mixtures too often contain a blend of sunflower, milo, millet, oats, wheat, flax, and buckwheat seeds. Many of those seeds are never utilized by our birds, but are thrown out of the feeders and attract ants. But the seeds that attract the greatest number of bird species are black-oil sunflowers. These seeds have a high meat-to-shell ration, hey are nutritious and high in fat, and their small size and thin shells make them easy for small birds to handle and crack. Striped sunflower seeds are larger and have a thicker seed coat.
In addition to the above seeds, a few of our wintering birds prefer thistle seeds. These tiny seeds require a different type of feeder, also readily available in most stores. But goldfinches and siskins rarely take any other type of seed. And suet is another feed that is worthwhile during the winter, although it can become rancid in warm weather. Suet can often be purchased in plastic mesh bags (the kind onions come in), or you can cut fat off beef and place it in a mesh bag or a wire basket and hang it in a location where raccoons can not steal the food. Premade suet cakes, often containing a seed mixture, are also available is stores that sell pet supplies.
I have found over the years that I can fix a high energy bird food by mixing peanut butter with a smaller portion of corn meal or oatmeal. This combination is necessary so that the small birds do not choke on the sticky peanut butter. I then place gobs of this mixture into pre-drilled holes in a small log that can be hung from a wire attached to a tree or pole. Even birds that usually feed only on seeds will often take advantage of the peanut butter mix. In fact, even non-seedeaters like warblers (orange-crowned and yellow-rumps) and wrens (Carolina, Bewick’s and house) will take advantage of this highly nutritious food.
Birds such as robins, thrushes, bluebirds, and waxwings usually don’t show up at feeders because seeds are not a major component of their diet. But you can still tempt them to dinner with an offering of fruit. Soften dried raisins and currents by soaking them in water, then offering them at a feeding station. Mockingbirds and catbirds will also find sliced fresh fruit attractive.
And also a short note about feeding hummingbirds in winter. Continue to maintain your feeders. The concern that hummers may not migrate south for the winter and die of the cold if you continue feeding is senseless. Those that normally go south will do so, but continuing to maintain your hummingbird feeders will only attract those that would remain anyway, plus a few other species that may be lurking nearby.
Finally, as I have said many time before in my Nature Notes, water, especially dripping water, attracts more birds than any of the feeders. All birds must drink. Providing bird food and water throughout the winter will attract the largest number and variety of species to your yard. Enjoy!