Bird Feeding Tips to Help Birds Survive Winter
By Mary Murray
Photos by Mary Murray at Windy Meadows Farm
A strong wind is circling around the barns and farmhouse, blowing snow and creating drifts that are knee-deep. Even though the sun is brightly shining, it does very little to chase away the bitter cold. Our local forecast for one day next week: a high temperature of 4 degrees, and the low -9 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures like those mean essential preparations to keep both us and our animals warm. As the winter winds begin racing across the open farmland, we’ll let kitchen faucets drip to keep them from freezing and extra firewood will be stacked by the back door. Outside, the chickens will be given meals of warm mash, goats will enjoy extra hay, and barn cats can snuggle into fleece blankets tucked into their houses.
Outdoor winter preparations certainly bring color to our cheeks: hauling firewood, moving bales of hay, adding pine shavings to the chicken coop, and shoveling paths through the snow for both us and the animals. Coming inside, a warm cup of hot chocolate never seems to taste better. We’re ready and can settle in, no matter what Old Man Winter brings; the warmth radiating from the kitchen fireplace is a simple country pleasure, and just what we need in February.
This morning it was a balmy 7 degrees, and the chill found me layering on my warmest clothes to begin chores. Once done, I stopped — there was a sense of utter quiet. Yet, in that quiet, I could see a flash of red and blue: cardinals, blue jays, and woodpeckers were eagerly eating at the bird feeders.
Winter Bird-Feeding Tips
The sweet chirping of springtime birds is a beautiful sound after the long, cold days of snow and ice. Winter can be hard on birds, so as temperatures continue to fall, I wanted to share a few winter bird feeding tips.
Give birds a high-calorie feed that contains black oil sunflower, millet seed and peanuts. Black oil sunflower seeds are high in protein and fiber, white millet is another good source of protein and calcium, while cracked corn is high in protein and fiber.I choose cracked corn over whole, because it’s simply easier for smaller birds to eat. Adding in chopped peanuts is another great source of protein and fiber. Lastly, setting out suet cakes, made from animal fat, is another terrific source of nutrition.
Keep feeders in sheltered areas so birds can be protected from wind and snow as much as possible. When hanging feeders from trees, use trees behind your house, barn, garage, or shed, wherever they will be blocked from the strongest winter winds.
Resist the urge to prune bushes and shrubs until spring. Hanging feeders in or near these areas helps birds find shelter and protection.
Feed birds daily. Feeders need to stay filled so birds can count on a reliable source of food. As creatures of habit, they know where there is a continuous supply of food and they’ll continue to visit your feeders. Remember to also toss some birdseed on the ground. Many birds prefer eating off the ground to eating from a feeder. A couple of miles away is a small, family-owned garden center that has every kind of bird seed imaginable. They sell many pre-packaged blends, but will also gladly create a special mix for customers. I count on their knowledge and generally pick up their winter blend for this time of year, but some days I’ll stop in and create my own mix of seeds.
If you’d like to make your own special birdseed mix, it’s really simple. Here’s my basic go-to recipe.
Basic Birdseed Blend
- 1 cup black oil sunflower seeds
- 1 cup plain peanuts, chopped
- ½ cup striped sunflower seeds
- ½ cup cracked corn
- ¼ cup dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries
When making my own blend, I avoid “filler” ingredients such as milo, which most of our birds avoid, and it usually ends up on the ground.
3-Ingredient Suet Cakes
- 2 cups birdseed
- 1/3 cup bacon grease or vegetable shortening, softened but not hot
- ½ cup peanut butter
In a large bowl, combine birdseed with grease or shortening; mix well. Blend in peanut butter and continue to stir to combine. Refrigerate mixture for 30 minutes. Using a spoon or ice cream scoop, spoon and press mixture into muffin tins, ice cube trays, or shape by hand. Freeze for 1 to 2 hours, and then remove from container. Place in a flat platform feeder or tuck cakes in the nooks of trees.
Keep in mind that homemade suet should only be used in very cold weather so it stays fresh and doesn’t become rancid. If you live in a warmer climate, it may spoil too quickly. In this instance, store-bought suet cakes, which have preservatives, are a better choice.
Well, I’m off to feed the birds. With a fresh snowfall overnight, it’s the perfect time to refill feeders, then sit back, feet by the fire and dog by my side, to enjoy the beautiful birds.
Mary Murray is a Midwest farm girl who enjoys the simple pleasures of living in the country. “For us, living where there is plenty of room for gardens, animals, and for kids to play and explore is the best kind of life.” Visit Windy Meadows Farm and read all of Mary’s GRIT posts here.
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