Take a peck at feeding birds this winter

Birds flock to a feeder outside Wild Birds Unlimited, where owner Larry Collins said the best mix of bird food will have black oil sunflower and white millet seeds.


• You don’t have to feed wintering birds. They are resourceful enough to find alternative food sources in all but the harshest weather.

But putting out a pound or two of seed and a shallow pan of water will bring living ornaments fluttering around your home, adding splashes of lively color to the dull drab of winter.

• What are the best times and weather conditions to watch feeders?

Birds visit feeders most often in the early morning and just before dusk. They use feeders less often in the afternoon and during rainy weather. In contrast, snow forces sparrows and juncos to congregate at feeders as these species usually feed on bare ground.

• Favorite bird foods: black oil sunflower seeds, white millet, Niger, safflower seeds, suet, peanut butter, dried fruit, raisins, cracked corn

• How can I stop birds from crashing into my windows?

A recent study by the Audubon Society found this to be the most common cause of death associated with feeders (about 1 to 10 deaths per building each year).

Falcon silhouettes attached to windows seem to have little effect. Fruit-tree netting stretched taut several inches in front of the glass is the best approach.

— More information at http://www.audubon.org; drsfostersmith.com

Larry Collins is a firm believer in leaving winter tweets for our feathered friends.

“Feeding birds in winter not only provides them with additional nutrition, they really brighten my day,” said Collins, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Grand Junction.

He’s had the store for 10 years and likely has gone through several pallets of bird seed in the three feeders outside his store, plus the several at his home.

He joins millions of Americans who regularly provide seed, suet and other feed to wintering birds.

There aren’t any firm numbers of how many people feed birds in winter, but in winters such as this, when unseasonably cold weather and heavy snow hit early and stay late, a feeder filled with the right mix of seed can make bird survival a whole lot easier.

With no insects flying around and snow covering weeds and other seed sources, a feeder offers an easy source of nutrition.

“This winter I think people realize, as cold as it’s been, the birds can use some help,” Collins said. “In truth, they usually can find some alternative food sources, but the birds do come to rely on you.”

But what you’re putting in that feeder makes a big difference. Many inexpensive commercial birdseeds are mostly filler, such as red millet, which simply ends up wasted on the ground. Collins recommends finding a birdseed primarily composed of black oil sunflower seeds.

“I tell people it doesn’t matter where you get your seed, just make sure the primary ingredient is black oil sunflower, and second is white millet,” Collins said. “Probably the favorite food of most birds is black oil sunflower seeds or sunflower chips, depending on how much you want to spoil them.”

One year-round resident is the American robin, and wintering robins love fruit, including dried fruits and raisins.

“I have a whole bunch of robins who go after the crab apples on my trees in the winter,” said Collins, who can be reached at 242-2843.

“And they really like the raisins.”

Forget about sharing those bread crusts. Bread has little nutritive value, and some research has indicated it can harm a bird’s digestive system.

The Doctors Fosters and Smith Web site says that once birds start coming to your feeder, they’ll count on you all winter.

“People sometimes quit feeding too early,” Collins said. “They’ll look outside and see it’s nice and pull their feeders, but it’s still too early for the natural food sources to appear.”

Dehydration can be a bigger threat to birds than starvation. Open water sources, including bird baths with heaters, literally can be lifesavers, Collins said.

“But you have to monitor your bird bath, because it can freeze in a couple of hours at these temperatures,” he said. “There are several types of heaters available that will keep the water open.”

White millet will attract ground-feeding birds such as sparrows, juncos and mourning doves.

The Doctors Fosters and Smith veterinarian Web site also recommends suet, peanut butter and other high-fat, high-energy feeds.

“The high-energy fat content helps the birds keep their weight on and helps keep them warm,” Collins said.

Collins said he often puts out whole-shell peanuts to attract some of the jays in the valley.

“If you put out different foods, you’ll bring in different birds,” said Collins.


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