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Help backyard birds weather the winter


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Special to The Dispatch



Americans in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico suffered through devastating hurricanes this year, and they weren't alone in their desolation -- Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria also caused unparalleled upheaval for wildlife, including bird populations. Many nature experts are worried about the long-term impact the horrific storms will have on migratory birds, from reducing the amount of food available to them and throwing off their migration schedules, to altering migratory courses and even exposing them to a range of man-made toxins. 


Mother Nature Network points out that the storms affected two of the major "flyways" for migratory birds traveling from their breeding areas in North America to their winter homes in the south. The National Wildlife Federation reports that Texas alone is a migratory funnel for about 300 bird species, including hummingbirds, highly endangered whooping cranes and prairie chickens. Further, Audubon reports the Caribbean is home to 172 bird species found nowhere else in the world, and 56 of them are already threatened. 


Given the widespread impact of the 2017 hurricane season on bird populations, which stripped foliage and natural food sources, like trees, fruits and insects, chances are good some birds who visited your backyard this year have been adversely affected. 


You can do your part to support birds -- both those that migrate and ones that stay put during winter -- by providing them with food and water throughout cold-weather months. 




Specific tips 


Wild bird experts at Cole's Wild Bird Products Co. provide suggestions for meeting birds' dietary needs during difficult winter months: 


  • Wild birds must eat about one-fourth to one-half their body weight daily to survive. During winter, when many natural food sources disappear, birds can find it challenging to sustain nutritional needs without some human help. Filling feeders with quality seed blends for seed-eaters, offering options like dried mealworms for insect-eaters, and providing high-fat suet for all types of birds can assist them in finding the essential energy they need to weather winter. 


  • Seeds full of cheap fillers like oats and red milo, or ones with synthetic or lab-engineered ingredients, won't meet birds' nutritional needs. What's more, many birds simply won't eat low-quality seed. Choose natural feed composed of top-of-the crop seeds, such as black oil sunflower, Niger seed, white millet, safflower and raw peanuts that birds love. Shelled sunflower seeds is a favorite feed for a wide range of backyard birds. 


  • Suet is a must-serve selection for many varieties of backyard birds. Convenient options like no-melt suet cakes and suet kibbles make it easier to supply birds with an energy-packed powerhouse food source. 


  • Many birds also enjoy fruits or raw peanuts. Mockingbirds and orioles will appreciate some raisins or currants soaked in water overnight, served in a bowl feeder. 


  • Feeder quality, type, maintenance and location are critical considerations during winter. Most seed-eating birds favor tube feeders, and ground feeders or birds that like mealworms or fruit will appreciate an easy-access bowl feeder. Keep feeders clean to minimize mold, mildew and other unhealthy conditions that can make birds sick.  


    Feeders should be placed in sheltered locations out of severe winds, and near protective cover like hedges to offer birds safety from predators. You can place them about five feet away from a wall or window, to avoid possible collisions and still allow for indoor birdwatching. 


  • Birds require water for drinking and bathing, and finding fresh, unfrozen water can be problematic when temperatures dip below freezing. Place a fountain or spritzer in your birdbath to keep water moving and unfrozen. You can also find heated birdbaths that gently warm water.



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