I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.
One of the most satisfying projects that I engaged in this past winter was feeding the wild birds that live in or near my yard. It was fairly easy and inexpensive, and really only required a little bit of diligence on my part to keep the feeding areas free of snow, and make sure the feeders were re-stocked when the seeds were running low.
Images copyright (from left): Ilse Schmid; Jenny Nystrom; Rie Cranmer; Gerda Muller; Eloise Wilkin.
Beyond the obvious pleasure of bird-watching, there are many good reasons for feeding wild birds, especially in winter. The Humane Society of the United States states: “Bird feeding is most helpful at times of when birds need the most energy, such as during temperature extremes, migration, and in late winter or early spring, when natural seed sources are depleted.” I don’t know about you, but in the deep, dark days of winter I always wonder how those little creatures stay alive, especially here in New England where temperatures can get very, very cold. The answer involves a variety of factors: birds have a higher metabolism than humans, and thus their bodies run at a higher temperature; many species grow special feathers that act as a sort of down blanket in the winter, holding heat close to their bodies; they fluff, tuck, and sun themselves, but they also spend a lot of time shivering. This last bit is one of the reasons why feeding birds is so important — if they don’t have enough food, they won’t have enough energy to do the things they need to do to keep themselves warm.
Brave little fighters, go on with your battle–
Here is a friend who will welcome you all!
Fly to my window–I’ll feed every comer–
Hail to the comrades that constancy show
Loving and loyal, in winter and summer–
With us, alike, in the heat and the snow!
-– From “Winter Birds” by Andrew Downing
There are lots of possibilities to explore in regards to feeding wild birds, but what we chose to do this year was hang two very simple wooden birdfeeders (I used this pattern), one in the front of the house, one in the back, as well as to shovel out a circular area in the backyard in which to scatter seeds, and the occasional peanut. Blue jays love peanuts. Of course, we had plenty of squirrels come along with the birds, but I really don’t mind. I know they need to eat, too. Because we hung our feeders right alongside the windows of our house, we were able to spend many happy hours watching the birds eat; we had a wonderful time trying to identify all of the different species. Having different types of feeding locations helped us to attract a wide variety, from mourning doves (who feed on the ground) to finches, nuthatches, and titmice (who like to eat from feeders). Next year I would love to add a bird table for the species that want to be somewhere in between.
Good for Birds to Eat:
- Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
- Thistle Seed
- Seed Mixes formulated for Wild Birds
- Roasted Peanuts
Not Good for Birds to Eat:
- Raw Peanuts: they inhibit protein absorption in birds and small mammals
- “People Food”: items like bread and table scraps provide almost no nutritional value to birds, and moldy bread can make birds sick.
Here are some pictures I took of our feathered (and furry) friends this winter.