Tips on winter bird feeding
As we inch closer to winter, many of our more common winter residents are a regular sight at our feeders. However, this year, more than usual perhaps, the birds are enjoying a rich abundance of nature’s bounty in the way of seeds produced as a result of the abundant summer monsoon rains we enjoyed earlier this year.
It is natural for birds to exploit the abundance of natural food sources over human-provided food sources. However, they know where the constant food sources are located, and when the weather results in difficulty finding sufficient food, they will readily take advantage of the food offered at feeders.
As you have probably experienced, it is a common sight to witness large numbers of birds the day before a winter storm hits, and certainly after we receive snow. Birds seem to have a built in barometer, and know when inclement weather is imminent, and they go into a “stocking up” mode prior to storms hitting.
When we do experience snow in the Arizona Central Highlands much of the wild food sources are temporarily covered and become inaccessible, creating a feeding frenzy at feeders.
I am frequently asked by customers whether it is a good idea to feed birds in winter. My answer is a resounding yes! I feel winter is the most critical time of year to feed birds. Most of the birds that winter-over in the Central Highlands are seed eaters. Ponder this question, “When were the seeds that birds are eating in nature produced”?
Most of the seeds available to birds in winter are a result of our summer monsoon rains—they were produced in August and September. When will these seeds be produced again? Not until August and September of next year.
As birds consume seeds found in nature, they have a diminishing food source in October, November and December. As they forage for food in nature, what they are finding to eat will not get replenished until fall of next year.
As they continue eating seeds in January, February and March there are fewer and fewer seeds available to them. This is one reason why most birds that we think of being seed eaters switch their diet to insects in the spring, as insects become the most abundant food source in the spring and summer months.
Foods with a high oil content such as black oil sunflower seed is a staple for birds in winter. The fat and protein content in sunflower seed is a winner for winter bird feeding.
If you are looking for ways to enhance what you are offering to the birds in winter when they are stressed due to extreme cold or heavy snowfall, consider feeding Mr. Bird seed cylinders and cakes. They make a variety of different kinds of seed cakes such as Wild Bird Feast, Pecan Feast, Woodpecker Feast and Bugs and Nuts.
This source of food has very high fat and protein content due to the mixture of ingredients — the key ingredient being pecans, followed by other ingredients such as nuts, sunflower and millet — certainly no filler ingredients.
Providing supplemental food in winter increases the survival rate of birds that winter at our high elevation home here in the Central Highlands. Consider how in the summer, birds have about 14 hours of daylight to forage for food, but in winter it drops to about 10 hours of daylight, so they have less time to find and consume food, and they have to endure long, cold nights. Survival in winter comes down to finding enough food each day to survive.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.