Prepare backyards now as safe havens for birds in winter


Special to The Dispatch



Ready or not, winter is on its way. Now is a good time to transform the backyard into a safe refuge for birds before unpredictable, harsh weather begins. Experts at Cole's Wild Bird Products suggest timely tips for encouraging birds to seek sustenance and shelter in your backyard. 


Start by taking an inventory of your existing feeders. Inspect each for damage and replace if necessary. Consider adding new feeders to attract even more birds and allow for fewer trips to refill them during especially cold and stormy days. Now is also a good time to stock up on high-energy bird feed.  




Figuring out feeders 


Different species of birds not only prefer different types of feed, they prefer different types of feeders. Consider providing a variety of feeder types to increase the diversity of your avian visitors. 


A tube feeder is a "must-have," since these all-purpose feeders keep seed dry while allowing a wide variety of birds to feed from multiple ports. Specialty wire-mesh tube feeders, designed for birds that cling, can easily dispense tiny, oil-rich niger seeds, protein-packed dried mealworms and other specialty feed. Mesh feeders allow clinging birds like woodpeckers to grasp the side of the feeder while selecting food -- and prevent larger, more aggressive birds from hogging the feed. 


For an easy-to-use, one-size-fits-most feeder, select a bowl style with a protective dome that can be raised and lowered to thwart large birds and squirrels from getting to the feed while helping protect seed from rain and snow. Easy to hang and fill, bowl feeders accommodate any seed, suet or even chopped fruit. Also, be sure to include at least one suet cage in your feeder array since suet provides a critical source of energy for birds in cold weather. 




Clean to prevent disease 


A necessary chore is to clean out any residue in feeders before filling with fresh seed. Some tube feeders have a built-in "quick-clean" feature. Use soapy water and a bottlebrush to scrub, then rinse with cool water. This ensures that mold or mildew aren't present and helps prevent disease. 




Quality feed 


Some bird enthusiasts may not realize that some commercial birdfeed is treated to prevent spoilage or packed with cheap "filler" seeds like milo, wheat or red millet, that birds seldom eat. Offering top-quality feed means less waste and ensures an increase in birds at the feeders.  


Seed choices should provide birds with the biggest energy boost possible. Sunflower is a great seed option for winter because it's rich in oil, which attracts birds and provides plenty of energy. Peanuts are another high-energy option. Choose hulled varieties that are whole and more nutritious than peanut pieces.  


And don't forget high-fat foods, like suet, the solid fat rendered from beef, or vegetables that provide concentrated energy to help birds maintain their increased metabolic rate during winter when their normal food sources are scarce. Or, try a suet-seed mix like Nutberry Suet Blend, an energy-packed, powerhouse feed mix of premium fruits, preferred nuts, suet kibbles and whole kernel sunflower meats. 




Provide water and shelter 


Birds need fresh water, especially in cold weather. Choose a heated birdbath and place it in a sheltered spot for safe access. And since birds may unwisely choose the coldest days to take a bath, consider placing a few rocks inside to discourage bathing, while still allowing birds room to drink. 


Birds also appreciate warm, dry shelter from wet, cold conditions. Offering well-insulated nest boxes will provide them with a cozy place to harbor. 


Preparing for birds now will enable you to continue to enjoy them throughout the winter, and birds will benefit from the extra care.



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