22 Jan All for the Birds
By: Olivia Canada, Naturalist with Cincinnati Parks Explore Nature!
In the winter months, when the land seems so barren and unforgiving one might not realize the nature that is out and about. For many, winter is a great time to help our local backyard birds. Birds have been surviving winters for many years without human assistance. But with a little know how, you can supplement our feathered friends and enjoy their visits to your backyard.
Cincinnati is home to many bird species that stay year round. But did you know that Cincinnati is also considered a “southern” winter vacation spot for some more northern bird species? By feeding birds you might catch some glimpses of our northern friends such as Dark-Eyed Juncos, Brown Creepers, and many more.
Bird feeding is what you make of it and how much you want to invest. Just like any other animal, many birds have different preferences as far as where to eat and what to eat. Step into any feed and seed store or other specialty places and it can feel very overwhelming.
Here are few basics to think about when you set up a bird feeding station:
First, make sure where you put your feeders also has some cover for the birds to perch in as they eat. There are predators out there such as house cats, raptors, and others that will take advantage of bird guests. Places with some shrubbery is helpful. Also make sure its near your home that you can peek out a window. You want to be able to monitor your feeders but also see your visitors.
Birds also need water, making this is a hard one to offer for some. If you have a pond or other water source, that is an added bonus for birds. You could have a bird bath but you would need a special heater to keep the water from freezing over during winter months. If this isn’t a possibility, do not fret! The birds will know where to seek out a drink.
As mentioned before, different birds eat on different levels. Some birds are ground feeders or platform feeders such as Mourning Doves, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Dark Eyed Juncos. Some birds are fine with traditional feeders. There are also finches such as Gold Finches and our northern friend, the Pine Siskins, that enjoy thistle feeders. Many birds, especially woodpeckers, enjoy suet. Suet is animal fat. You can get it at a butcher shop, or simply get pre-made suet cakes. Feeding bacon grease is not recommended, as it contains nitrosamines that are harmful to birds. Suet can be given in a suet cage hanging. You can have a suet feeder attached to a tree. Some places sell upside down suet feeders to discourage others animals from eating it. There are lots of choices, so go with what works best for you.
The goal in feeding is to provide the birds with lots of fat. Fat keeps birds warm during those blustery winter months. The most generic and bang for your buck bird seed is the black oil sunflower seed. Many species will eat it as it is calorie rich compared to other types of seeds. The downside, however, is that sunflower seed shells are allelopathic, which means that they produce a chemical that inhibits the growth of other plants. So, if you want things to grow right under your feeder, it probably won’t happen. Some places do sell shelled sunflower seeds, but that does get very costly.
A lot of wild bird food products have millet. Some birds do like millet, such as your Mourning Doves but it isn’t a favorite of all. You could also soak raisins for fruit loving birds like Northern Mockingbirds. Peanuts are also a yummy favorite.
One big no-no is bread. Birds will eat bread but it doesn’t provide the nutritional needs birds require. You will have fat birds running on zero calories. So as tempting as it is, no bread is strongly recommended. Cracked corn is good for doves, wild turkey, Blue Jays, etc. But with cracked corn you might also get deer visitors too.
Speaking of deer, many other animals like that you feed birds too. Don’t be surprised to have visitors such as squirrels or raccoons. There are specific feeders out there to deter non birds or larger non-native birds like European Starlings. There are also baffles to help keep other animals at bay. But that would be another subject. As naturalists, we just feed whomever visits and needs a meal.
One last thing: periodically, it is a good idea to wash your feeders. You will have many visitors from all over and a clean feeder is essential. You don’t want to spread disease among your new feather friends. All in all, bird feeding can be a lot of fun and enjoyment during the dull doldrums of winter. Your local backyard birds will thank you for it!
Check out the recent Facebook Live Olivia hosted on this topic as well by visiting Cincinnati Parks Facebook page.
Olivia Canada is the full-time Naturalist at Caldwell Nature Center and team member of Cincinnati Parks Explore Nature! division. In her role, Olivia creates interactive nature education programs for all ages. She has been an educator and nature enthusiast the last 22 years with Cincinnati Parks. She has a degree in Environmental Science with a biology-social emphasis and a minor in Political Science from Georgetown College in the heart of the bluegrass region in Kentucky. She began her love of nature going on adventures with her aunt to the Grand Canyon, Alaska and hiking the trails of Kentucky. When not in the Parks, she enjoys taking care of her assorted pets, attending her children’s events, baking , and going on outdoor adventures with her family.