Winter bird feeding entertains, educates
On a recent, routine patrol of Froggy Bottom, my home bailiwick, the creek-side brush and undergrowth sent me a message: It is time to break out the winter bird-feeding stations.
I usually wait to do so each autumn until the natural supply of seeds – everything from thistle seeds and autumn olive and gray dogwood berries to the bright red berries of pesky but plentiful Asian invasive bush honeysuckle – is depleted. Insects, of course, are long dormant by now so insect-eating bird species have flown the proverbial coop for warmer climes.
By waiting, my feeding stations become instant magnets that will attract and hold a variety of birds all winter. Spoiler alert: I do not feed birds because they need it. Birds have evolved quite well across the millennia to survive winter’s harshness before we nature lovers, however well-meant, started offering them feeding sites.
We feed birds in winter for the recreation, for the company, to see just which species might be in the neighborhood. Feeding mostly is about us, not them. Birds get along without us, thank you.
If you do feed, first be sure your various feeders are clean and mold-free. A contaminated feeder can spread disease among the birds it attracts, doing more harm than good. Then, consider that variety is the spice of life.
I maintain 10 feeders on my bottomland, each feeder strategically placed to be viewed from various windows in the Red House, at least with binoculars. I stock two suet feeders, one with Niger or thistle seed, four with mixed seed that includes everything from cracked corn and millet to sunflower seed and other commercial castoffs, and three with all oil-sunflower seed. That is about my limit.
Recently, I hardly had the suet feeders hung before they were being visited by downy and red-bellied woodpeckers and a white-breasted nuthatch. A day or so later, the first of the goldfinches arrived, and from the musical sound in the bottom nearby, a Carolina wren, now a year-round resident and one of my favorite songbirds, was indicating that he would be visiting.
The snowbirds – dark-eyed juncos, so nicknamed by some naturalists because their white bellies and dark gray back so resemble the colors of winter snow clouds – will be here soon enough. Blue jays have streamed in, and house finches will not be far behind.
Friends already have reported some pine siskins – one of several species of far northern winter finches that also include red- and white-winged crossbills, evening grosbeaks, and purple finches. The winter “jungle drums” forecast a good winter here for these finches because of a dearth of seed-cones in the fir forests and the boreal regions of Canada.
Another point to remember about feeding birds in winter: You have provided an easily accessible food supply to “bait” the birds for your viewing pleasure. So ethically, you are responsible for feeding them all winter, having interrupted what may be movements to more southerly, food-abundant latitudes. You in effect made them your dependents, so be sure to keep feeding until spring budding and insect emergence.
Me, I enjoy having a variety of birds around all winter. They perk up an otherwise often gray and brown landscape, keeping my eye focused outdoors at what is happening – the truly important things beyond the mindless television screen or social media-polluted iPad.
Oh yes, I enjoy watching birds over the bead on the barrels of my English-style double-barrel shotgun well enough, but I also enjoy watching them at my feeding stations at Froggy Bottom each winter day.