Hi everyone! Winter is a GREAT time to start bird watching! If you like to stay in where it is warm, you can watch out your windows. If you like to get out and get moving in the winter, birds are great motivators. I can’t believe how many times I braved the cold last winter to find birds! Feeding your back (and front) yard birds serves 2 purposes. First, our feathered friends need our help to survive the winter because their normal sources of food are gone now. The second reason to feed birds is to see birds. You can attract many different birds to your feeders based on what kinds of food you fill them with! You can watch the slideshow on my site’s homepage to see most of the birds we typically see in the wintertime in Western MA. Sometimes, you may even see a rare bird, such as Nancy’s Rufous Hummingbird that was using her nectar feeder in Hampden when the snow was falling! Check out that blog for pics! The good news is that bird watching is free. The bad news is that feeding our feather-babies can be pricey. I will share what I use to attract so many birds to my yard.
There are many different seed mixes out there to choose from, and some are better than others. To make it even more interesting, there are lots of types of FEEDERS that will attract different birds too. If you feed your flock year-round, your birds will be used to you and your feeders. You may see more of those same birds now that food is so scarce in their natural habitats. They may even try to chase the other birds away from your feeders. If you are just starting to feed your birds, it may take a week or 2 for them to come to your feeders while they observe from a distance to assess whether it is safe to visit them. Winter is a good time to start feeding and building your flock as beggars can’t be choosers. Birds can be finicky the rest of the year LOL!
Which birds like what kinds of foods and feeders? A good rule of thumb with food is that you get what you pay for. For example, there are cheaper bags of bird food that are filled with millet, little round white seeds. Most of the songbirds will ignore this and you will attract a lot of House Sparrows with it. Ground feeding birds like Mourning Doves, Rock Pigeons and Dark-eyed Juncos may eat this seed after the other birds toss it to the ground. The squirrels will usually help clean up the leftovers as well. I prefer to buy mixes that have seed and nuts and dried fruit in them. They cost more, but the birds are actually eating the food. I really like the “no waste” mixes out there. The birds eat everything so I don’t have to clean up a million discarded shells, but these blends are quite expensive.
So, which birds like which foods? Woodpeckers love nuts. I have Hairy, Downy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers that visit my feeders daily. My woodpeckers will eat out of tube feeders, platform feeders, window boxes or off the ground. They can also eat off perch type feeders but will have a harder time. Nuthatches, as you can guess, LOVE nuts! I have White-breasted Nuthatches visiting all day long. This year, we are also seeing an influx of Red-breasted Nuthatches locally, and they will visit your feeders too. Nuthatches are neat to watch as they will eat UPSIDE down when perching! Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and Carolina Wrens love shelled nuts as well. Northern Cardinals and Eastern Bluebirds will eat them occasionally. When I want to hand feed my birds, my go to is peanuts. These songbirds can access all types of feeders. Blue Jays and Crows are too big for perch-type feeders but they love whole peanuts in the shell. I toss them out and have fun watching them take the nuts to bury or eat them.
How about seeds? My American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, House Finches, Pine Siskins and Northern Cardinals (especially) love Safflower seeds. They have amazing abilities to use their beaks to get the seed out of the shell. Safflower is not cheap, but when you factor in fact that squirrels are not fans of safflower, so they don’t steal it, the money is a wash. Chickadees and Titmice will also eat safflower. The chickadees will steal one and fly off to a tree, but the Titmice will let you watch them peck on the shell to get the seed while they perch on the feeders. These birds will eat sunflower kernels and seeds, both shelled and unshelled as well. If you like your birds up-close, there is a deck mix with sunflower seeds, peanuts and pistachios. I use this because all my birds love it, and I can see many different birds at once. Some of the birds will enjoy dried fruit now. I just use the fruit mixed in with food now as it doesn’t freeze. You can also buy Nyjer or thistle seed for finches. This seed requires a special feeder as the seeds are too small for other feeders. You can also buy prepared bags of Nyjer, but it freezes if it gets wet. Sparrows, Chickadees, and Juncos also eat out of my finch feeders.
Suet is a favorite food for all my winter birds! It is made of lard and other ingredients that birds can eat year-round. It is not that expensive but be careful to get the kind that doesn’t freeze or melt (in summer). You can make your own too. Check my Resources page for a recipe that works great! Suet feeders look like cages and the birds perch on them. The larger birds such as the Blue Jays, Common Grackles, European Starlings and Crows will devour suet if it is in a big enough feeder for them to perch on. Cardinals and Robins and Mourning Doves will eat suet off the ground. I use a suet feeder within a cage set-up. All my songbirds will go into the cage and get to the suet, but the larger birds and squirrels are kept at bay. I have a Northern Flicker that has just started visiting my suet feeder this week and I have seen his golden wings up-close! I need to be careful because Rocky Raccoon, my backyard bandit, likes to steal my whole suet feeder if it is not attached to my deck well!
Who doesn’t love Bluebirds!? They are puffy and cute and always look like they are scowling LOL. My go-to choice for attracting these beauties are dried mealworms. There are special mealworm feeders, but my bluebirds will use any window box, house-type feeder they can go into, or platform-style feeder. Carolina Wrens are cute and bossy little feather balls that LOVE mealworms too! The Tufted Titmice also like the mealworms. Starlings will wipe out your mealworm supply in minutes if you use a platform feeder and mealworms are not cheap. The little house I use now works best because only my smaller songbirds can get at the worms. You can see my bluebirds using the feeder in my videos on my social media pages. Birds also need water in the winter to stay hydrated and clean their feathers. I have a heated birdbath that attracts so many birds! Winter will bring lots of birds because they need the food and water to survive. Please be sure that if you feed the birds, you clean your feeders and birdbaths. Last winter, Finch Eye Disease killed lots of birds as they congregated at feeders.
Lastly, for those of you that want to get out there to see the birds, you can feed your local waterfowl too. I visit the ponds in both Fannie Stebbins and Forest Park and feed the ducks, geese, and swans now. I shared tons of videos of me feeding my babies-see how to access them on my Find Me page! There are SO many cool species to see wherever the ice is not totally frozen now. You can also see the species I recently fed on my Springfield and Longmeadow pages. Many people bring bread to feed these birds. This is not a great choice as it has little nutritional value for them. I buy duck food, but it can add up when you feed so many. Frozen peas are a good choice as they have lots of fiber. They will eat some other fruits and vegetables too. Be sure to cut grapes and other food into small pieces so they do not choke on them.
I have included some pictures of the birds and feeders I talked about here. I appreciate all comments and feedback. Let us know if you have success with other foods/feeders or questions. Thanks, Robin😊