Feed your birds smartly this winter
Feeding birds in winter is not for the birds, it is for you.
The foregoing is an observation I learned years ago from the late Harold Mayfield, of Toledo, a keen observer and world-renowned, self-taught ornithologist.
I thought of Harold and his take on bird feeding during the last few days, the coldest of the season to date, as I watched everything from red-breasted nuthatches and dark-eyed juncos to red-bellied woodpeckers and goldfinches flocking into my own feeders.
Mayfield liked to make the point that the various bird species spend millennia figuring out how to survive in the climates to which they adapted, including how to feed themselves. He used to chuckle at those well-meant folks who seemed to think that birds could not survive the winter without their backyard feeding stations. The sage man would ask in wonder how did birds ever make it before backyard bird feeders. He was right, of course, though it is true that you may help some local individuals – if not the species as a whole – survive the coldest, harshest spells.
In any case, Mayfield in his own right was a rugged outdoorsman who enjoyed watching birds at his backyard feeders in winter. As a senior citizen, he still climbed trees in his yard, with an axe in hand, to trim off dead limbs. In his 70s, he also would spend months alone in the arctic summers, living out of a tent camp and doing research on rare wading birds.
Another rugged character who loved feeding birds in his winter backyard was the late Jim Fofrich Sr., the legendary Lake Erie charter fishing skipper. He was as hairy-fisted and rough as a dry corncob when he wanted to be, but he had a soft spot for tiny, colorful songbirds.
A tip on backyard bird feeding: Give them something worthwhile as long as you are luring them in for your viewing pleasure. The small black sunflower seeds known as “oilers,” for example, are packed with energy. So are suet cakes. A single oil sunflower seed saves lots of energy-consumptive scavenging and picking along limbs for less nutritious items, such as insect larvae.
And skip tossing out bits of stale bread. It is practically worthless as birdfeed; yes, birds will eat it and it is filling. But it has little energy value, fooling birds into a false sense of security with a full but “empty” belly.