As I write this post, the snow is quietly falling here in the Appalachian Mountains and a beautiful Northern Cardinal is feeding with a Goldfinch at one of our feeders. If you are like us, you enjoy watching the birds fluttering into and out of the feeders. The joy of watching birds is usually why people put bird feeders up; however, a good supplemental wild bird feeding plan can enhance your viewing and serve to remove some of the winter feeding stress from your flock. Feeding wild birds is great for you and the birds!
Much like the forest surrounding our home, providing a variety of food choices allow the birds to select their desired food according to the conditions.
There are many warmer winter days, when snow is not covering the landscape, that we do not see birds coming to the feeder – why?
Well, generally they can find what they need from the landscape and do not require supplemental feeding. When conditions warrant, like several inches of snow or ice, bird feeders can provide an easy source to help them through those tougher conditions.
Here are 3 things you should consider when setting up your bird feeders:
1. What Birds are Nearby?
While I admit I am not a bird identification expert by any means, I do know where to find authoritative sources. You can find any number of apps or books to assist you with identification.
My favorite app is MerlinBirdID.
For identifying using the “old school” method I use (this is an affiliate link – we get a commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase) Peterson Field Guide to Birds which can be found on Amazon.
The importance of identifying which birds are wintering in your area is to understand what the feeding options are and what type of feeder those species may be comfortable with. Just as we develop management plans for whitetail, grouse and other native species, catering to the different species of birds wintering in your area can be just as important.
For example, the above mentioned Northern Cardinal is a member of the Grosbeak family who enjoys cracking open seeds. The Goldfinch is a small seed consumer who enjoys picking up the thistle seeds at another feeder and occasionally flies to the larger platform feeder for some cracked corn.
To meet the different demands of our wintering feathered friends, we provide a variety of supplemental feed and seed.
A quick reference for different feed options for birds can be found at www.wild-bird-watching.com/Bird_Seed.html. This site along with others provide you a good overview of which seeds to use for the different birds around your home during the winter.
2. How Do Those Nearby Birds Feed?
Consider setting up different feeders to match the type of feeding style of that species.
Currently we are running three different feeders. One mesh feeder to provide thistle seed, one large platform feeder for sunflower seeds and a small seed mix, and finally a suet feeder. Additionally, we feed cracked corn on the ground at times and occasionally in our large platform feeder which keeps a healthy population of Blue Jays, Mourning Doves and the local Crows happy.
The mesh or wire feeder filled with thistle seeds is frequented by Finches and Wrens and easy way to begin enjoying the bird population. We purchased this feeder, filled with thistle seed, hung it up – and its done! A mesh wire feeder is easily found at common discount stores, farm and feed stores or home improvement stores.
Two different platform feeders serve a large range of species. If your resources are limited, it would be an easy choice to purchase or build. We built the two feeders above, my mother and father built the Ferris wheel feeder – deer know how it works – and my mother and her sister built the large platform feeder.
Note the tin wrapped legs on this large feeder with the roof. Depending on your location and other game animals which your feeder may attract, you may want to consider keeping them out or away from your birds. For our area, cats, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, deer and occasionally bear visit the feeders. The tin-wrapped legs keep the small, climbing animals out of the feeder and provides safety for the birds when visiting. As for the deer and bear, one could put up an electric fence, however, we write off the occasional loss as part of doing business.
An interesting issue arose after building the larger platform feeder. Birds were hesitant to fly into the feeder and land in the tray. Puzzled by this issue, my mother researched the problem and found that birds like an observation perch before committing to the tray of seed. Once the two strips of wood for the landing perches were added, the birds had no issues using the structure.
The third feeder type is the suet feeder. Suet is a solid cake formed from animal fat and seeds or fruit. The mixture hardens and creates a solid block that clinging birds love. Many platform feeders can be purchased with suet cages on them already. It is an easy way to get started and the suet is very inexpensive. We have found suet to be a good option for woodpeckers and nut hatchers. They fly in, peck off pieces and then fly back to a nearby tree and eat. We cater specifically to the woodpeckers with the suet feeders as they don’t use the large platform feeders.
3. Location, Location, Location
Again, location is everything and needs to be part of your planning.
Not only the location of your feeder in relation to your home, but also where you reside. It is wonderful to watch your newfound feathered friends fluttering about and enjoying what you provided.
It is not fun to clean your porch, deck, carport or vehicle after the local bird population has used it as their rest stop.
Your neighbors may not be happy with you or your friends if their vehicles become the local roosting place as they transit your feeders.
Be sure to keep the bird excrement in mind when planning your feeding station locations!
No Time Like the Present
Feeding your local group of birds is just that simple.
Identify which species are present throughout the year, especially the winter months and then determine feeding styles and feed preferences. Identify a good location for the feeders and get started.
For most birds, you can pick up feed at your local shopping market, pet supply store or feed store. The same is true for feeders of all types or you can find numerous options online. You can build your own too!
Your feathered friends will thank you!