Salads, fresh fruits, and vegetables tempt my taste buds during the Spring and Summer. I savor soups, stews, and hot casseroles during the Fall and Winter months.

Just as our bodies crave different tastes as the seasons change, the nutritional needs of our feathered friends differ, too. Winter presents challenges outside the obvious dip in temperature. The days are shorter which means there is not as much time for birds to seek out their food sources. Their natural supply of insects and worms is dormant, dead or obscured by snow. Water and shelter are harder to find. This is where we can step in to ensure birds can be among the survival of the fittest.

I admit, like my gardening, I made a beginner’s mistake last winter when it came to feeding birds. Simply put, I did not. My gardening was done for the winter and so was my effort to keep my two feeders full. This summer I bought more feeders and started learning about food. I’m taking that knowledge and putting it to practice this winter. Birds require nourishment that will give them the energy needed to stay warm. High calorie, high fat food is a must.

Start with suet. It’s 100% pure fat. The hard, solid substance is sold in “cake form” and is very affordable. You can find suet cakes as cheap as a dollar. I have mine stacked with nut cakes (no pun intended) on a stackable hanger made for cakes. You can also hang them in metal cages.

Peanuts, whole or shelled, are another power food for winter-feeding. They are high in protein and fat, and they won’t freeze. Many backyard birds will flock to your yard if you make peanuts available. Oil sunflower seed is another winner. Loaded with more calories than striped sunflower, coupled with its thinner shell, makes this another great choice for winter. It is equally important to make sure your feeders remain full all winter long so the birds can always find their source of food easily. In addition to the challenge of finding food, shelter can also become scarce.

After the leaves have fallen, there are fewer places to escape from the cold, biting wind. I have three natural evergreens in my yard, but generally speaking, they are limited in the big picture. Keep your man made-bird houses out as a refuge from wind, rain, ice, snow and predators. If you have not done so already, clean the houses to make sure there are no parasitic bugs. The same advice applies to your feeders. My finch feeder remained untouched and full for more than a month. When I asked an expert, I was told it was likely the food may have spoiled and the feeder needed cleaning. Makes sense—I wouldn’t want to eat spoiled food from a dirty plate, so why would a bird? I threw the food out and disinfected the feeder with a mixture of diluted bleach (10%) and water.

Although maintaining a birdbath or other water source has inherent challenges during freezing weather, birds still need it. You can purchase a specially designed heater for your birdbath, or can keep an eye on the water you put out. A helping hand from us can ensure birds make it through the long, cold winter. Plus, they’re so enjoyable to watch from inside, especially the beautiful red Cardinals contrasting with white snow.

Posted on 2014-01-01 by Michelle Rauch