Birds could really use your help in cold

Common Redpolls normally are birds of the north, but this winter the birds are being seen throughout the Western Slope after irrupting (migrating in search of food) as far south as Colorado. This feeder near Mesa has attracted a redpoll (hanging on the left side) accompanied by two American Goldfinches.

When it’s been this cold, those sparks of feathers flashing around the neighborhood could use a helping hand.

“Certainly in winters such as this we recommend people put out some food for the birds,” said Larry Collins of Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 U.S. Highway 6&50 in the Valley Plaza shopping center.

“Most birds are having trouble finding food because it’s either covered with snow or the source already is depleted,” Collins said. “Birds simply don’t have as many backup sources as in warmer weather.”

But before you buy that pickup-sized bag of discount bird seed, remember the stresses of winter demand a diet change for your feathered guests.

Foods rich in calories and high in fat should be the main course at your feeders.

Sunflower seeds, particularly the black oil seeds (twice the calories per pound of striped sunflower seeds) are popular with many birds, from finches to flickers, and are relatively inexpensive.

Other seeds to offer include white and red proso millet and nyjer (thistle) seeds, popular among smaller birds such as finches, sparrows and chickadees.

You’ll pay a bit more for quality bird feed, but there will be less to clean up because the birds will eat it instead of kicking it out on the ground.

“Quality also means freshness,” Collins said. “The fresher the seed, the more oil content the seeds will have.”

“We recommend people stay away from seed blends with lots of milo, oats or wheat because they don’t offer a lot of nutritive value.”

Fruit-eating birds such as robins will come to diced apples, raisins or grapes while high-energy foods such as suet, peanut butter and whole peanuts also attract a variety of birds.

“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy,” Collins said. “Just put out a tray or a saucer, and you can stuff suet or peanut butter into a pine cone or even smear it on a tree.”

There also are special cage-like suet feeders that support blocks of commercial suet-based foods, which often also contain berries, peanuts or other attractive foods.

Birds also need fresh water during the winter, both for drinking and keeping their feathers clean, and will use the same birdbath year-round if it’s kept clean and has open water.

Inexpensive outdoor water heaters will keep birdbaths open through the coldest months.

Also, it’s important to keep feeders and basins clean to prevent the spread of disease.

Above all, once you start feeding, it’s good to stay committed. Birds develop daily feeding patterns, and your feeder may be a key stop during storms and prolonged cold weather.


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