“While birds are equipped to withstand most winter weather, they can’t turn up the thermostat, throw on an extra blanket or whip up a warm cup of cocoa.” Their natural food supply has been consumed or hidden by snow; most insects are dead or dormant; water is now harder to find; the days are short and the nights are long. This is why backyard bird feeding is more crucial now than ever for the survival of our many Wisconsin backyard birds. It is during these times that feeders play their most important role. If a storm is of long duration or temperatures have dipped to extreme cold, a feeding station may mean the difference between life and death for these birds.
Have you noticed how ravenously the birds are eating at your bird feeders, especially first thing in the morning and just before dusk? They are stoking their internal heater to get the day started and replenish fat reserves for another cold night.
Studies show that an average bird within an average environment must forage about 5 hours per day to meet their energy requirements. In winter, they have to forage much longer to maintain their energy level. During cold weather, chickadees have been found to need 20 times more food than they do in the summer to maintain their body heat. We also know that when chickadees have access to feeders, their winter survival rate increases to 69 percent versus 37 percent.
Want to help the birds in your backyard survive the winter? Here’s how!
Add high protein, fat and calories to your feeders. This includes blends with peanuts, tree nuts and lots of black oil sunflowers and chips. (Black oil sunflowers are easier to crack open and has twice the calories of stripped sunflower.)
- Watch the chickadees go back and forth with a peanut to cache or eat.
- Blue jays love peanuts in the shell as well as woodpeckers, and will cache them for future use.
- Offer quality suet that includes nuts. Try adding Bark Butter (peanut based spread for birds).
- White Proso Millet for the juncos and mourning doves. Spread a little on the ground (snow).
- Provide a heated bird bath: a water source throughout the winter will contribute to bird survival and attract more birds to your yard. Watch them drink and even bathe in the cold. Clean feathers help to maintain their body heat.
- Place feeders near bushes for perching and protect them from the wind, snow, ice and predators.
And as always enjoy the birds and their many antics from the warmth of your own comfortable chair!