Birds bring fun to homes and gardens during dull winter

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published January 14, 2015

METRO DETROIT — Now is a great time to add bird feeders near your home or garden to provide color, song and activity during the drab winter months. Bird feeders also provide a sure food source during a period when birds’ normal fare, such as insects and berries, is scarce.

Kim Sherwin, a park interpreter at the Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center, said that feeders are a relaxing way to enjoy nature while not having to leave the comfort of your home.

She said many birds in Michigan stay around this time of year, such as cardinals, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches and mourning doves, but some winter-only birds include dark-eyed juncos, red polls and pine siskins.

“This is their Florida,” Sherwin said.

Ed and Pam Kammann, owners of Wild Birds Unlimited in Novi, said that providing a water source is just as important as providing food. While some birds, such as blue jays, store food for the winter, and others manage to forage, liquid water is more difficult to come by.

“With small ponds and streams freezing over, if you can provide them with a source of water — either through a birdbath that has a fountain or a heated birdbath — that’s something you’ll definitely attract more birds with,” Ed said.

Sherwin added that it is amusing to watch birds drink and preen, and often humorous watching squirrels quench their thirst.

Pam said that different feeders attract different birds, but the style that would invite the most activity to your yard would likely be a hopper feeder.

“They have a larger perch for the birds, so your ground feeders can come and sit on that feeder, versus tube feeders, which are more limited to clinger-style birds,” Pam said.

She recommended that those new to bird feeders start with a finch feeder, which holds small thistle seeds, because squirrels would be less interested.

Sherwin and the Kammanns agreed that black oil sunflower seeds would draw the widest variety of bird species, since they have a smaller nut-to-shell ratio and about 95 percent of birds eat them.

Ed said that safflower is a good seed to attract cardinals, and peanuts are a popular choice for woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, blue jays and nuthatches. He added that millet is a good choice for dark-eyed juncos.

“Suet is also important in the winter,” he said. “The high fat content gives them good energy. They can absorb it quickly, and it helps them stay warm.”

Ed added that it is good to position bird feeders near a quick source of cover, such as a bush, tree or pile of sticks to protect them from predators like cats or hawks, as well as to situate them well above the ground.

Sherwin said that to prevent birds from window strikes, clear stickers to reduce reflections are available.

In order to avoid a mess, Pam said to choose seeds that have already been shelled and add a tray beneath feeders to catch droppings, and Sherwin said to stay away from cheaper feeds that contain fillers.

“The birds will pick out the seeds and the filler will end up on the ground,” Sherwin said. She added that it could attract vermin and unwanted birds.

As for cleaning bird feeders, Ed recommended washing them every two to three months with hot water and, if necessary, a little bleach. He said to also allow the feeders to fully dry before adding seed, so they do not get moist or freeze.

“By feeding birds now during the winter, they will be more likely to use your yard during the summer,” he said.