wild birds searching for food in winter (10439 bytes)

Providing for Wild Birds in the Winter

By Joe Julian, Colorado State University, Horticulture

Many different kinds of birds make their home along the Front Range of Colorado, and it doesn't take much cost or effort to attract and feed them. Research has shown the black oil sunflower seed is one of the preferred foods for many wild birds. You can purchase a tube feeder at a reasonable price and fill it with sunflower seed to attract finches, chickadees, Pine siskins and others. Sunflower seeds that fall to the ground also will attract juncos, jays and woodpeckers.

In addition to tube feeders and black oil sunflower seeds, you also can find other types of bird feeders and seed for backyard bird feeding. Birds, such as flickers, woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches, are attracted to suet. You can purchase a special feeder that holds blocks of suet or you can collect large pine cones, which then can be dipped in liquid fat (melted suet) or stuffed with peanut butter.

Be aware that if you start feeding in the fall, birds probably will not come to the feeder right away. They still can find plenty of natural food in the environment. Once the first significant snow occurs, however, birds will flock to your feeder and you will need to be diligent to keep the feeders full!

One important consideration is the common tree squirrel, which can take over platform-type feeders. You can buy specialized feeders that prevent squirrels from accessing the seed.

If you want a greater variety of wild birds to visit your backyard and feeders, provide water throughout the winter. Birds will use a water source for drinking and bathing. You can provide water by using a simple, shallow dish and placing it in a location safe from predators, such as cats. This should be an open area in the yard, so birds can spot predators. Cats tend to sneak up on birds, so placing a water dish or feeder in an area where felines can hide is not a good idea.

birdbath in the winter (12202 bytes)

Be sure keep water in the birdbath from freezing

You also can purchase a birdbath at a nursery, garden center or specialty wild bird store, several of which are located in the Denver metropolitan area. It is important to clean the water source at least weekly, scrubbing and cleaning the inside of the birdbath with dish soap and/or laundry detergent. Be sure to remove all of the soap before refilling the birdbath with water. A birdbath heating device will keep water from freezing, so birds have access to fresh, clean water throughout the winter.

Photographs courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010