Fountain Valley News - Your Hometown Community Newspaper

Winter Feeding


December 6, 2017

Doug Harling

Two male and two female house finches eating sunflower seeds at a feeder in our backyard habitat.

Not all birds migrate to avoid the cold winter months and winter can be brutal on the birds. Food can be difficult to find in harsh weather so many birds migrate south to avoid the hard winter months here, however; just as many stay. Some birds even migrate to this area from the arctic regions and spend the winter here. The bugs and berries birds eat in the summer are impossible to find in the winter. There are some great foods out there to help give the birds the energy they need to survive a hard winter. It is very important to put out feed that helps build fat and give them energy.

"Nuts" in every shape and form are the best foods! Peanuts and sunflower seeds are the two biggest and most popular nuts to feed. Roasted unsalted peanuts are best and black oil sunflower seeds. Both are full of oils and protein the birds need so bad. Black oil sunflower seed has twice the calories per pound than the striped sunflower seed we would eat. They are a smaller seed and less mess to clean up. All nuts can be purchased in shell or out of shell. Already shelled nuts are much more expensive but leave no mess. I get them in the shell and a simple yard vacuum works great for cleaning up the shells! On very cold days, I may just open the door and throw a small pile of seeds out on top of the snow.

"Suets" are a very good energy food and easy to put out. There are also some very easy recipes out there to make your own. Most are in a lard base which gives the birds an extra boost of fat desperately needed in the cold weather. Peanut butter suets are great and they are easy to make (just Google bird suet recipes). The fun thing about making your own is that you can add fruits and veggies that would normally freeze and be difficult to eat. Suets are the best way to provide the foods that the birds love in the summer but can't get in the winter. You can have fun with these. You can even make them with season themes. I like to use pine cones in the winter. Just fill the pine cones with the mixture and hang them from trees or fence posts. You can make bells, balls and even wreaths.

"Salt" is often overlooked and is a very essential mineral for birds. Rather than just thowing salt out, you can mix a heavy salt solution with water and pour it on rocks and fence posts around the feeders. When it evaporates, it leaves salt crystals that the birds will eat. Do not put salt on live plants or grass because it will kill them. I make a heavy salt solution in a shallow bowl and let it dry. Set that out and they will get the crystals out.

"Calcium" Another very important mineral for birds is Calcium. The best way to provide calcium is with chicken egg shells. Save eggs shells and crush them up into the suets or mixed with bird seed. Both young and old birds need these minerals in their diet. Oyster shells crushed up work just as well but most of us eat eggs and just throw the shells out so that is the easiest and cheapest source of Calcium.

"Bugs" are a huge part of small birds diets. You can find dried meal worms, crickets and other types of bugs at feed stores in the bird food section. Just mix some with the seeds or even mix them into your suet feeders.

"Water" As I wrote in another column, water is the most critical of all! Bird bath heaters and even heated dog water bowls work!! Lastly, leave all old berry bushes, sunflower plants and all seed producing shrubs untrimmed until March or April. There are many parts of these dead plants and shrubs that the birds will use.

Happy birding!


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