With winter on its way, now is the perfect time to fill backyard bird feeders.
Fall and winter are great seasons to watch the birds at feeders. Many of the birds are year-round residents seeking milder low-elevation locations for the winter. Others are migrants from Canada and Alaska. Unlike other animals, birds do not become dependent upon feeders. Instead, they incorporate feeders into their daily search for food, moving on to other food sources if feeders are empty. But in subzero temperatures feeders can become vital food sources, helping birds survive extreme cold snaps.
Birds are also attracted to water, even in the winter. While maintaining a bird bath during the winter may seem odd, ice-free water will attract birds.
Not only will birds drink, they will also bathe to keep feathers clean, boosting their insulating power. Bird bath heating units can prevent bird baths from freezing.
Offer food at different levels. A ground feeder will attract ground-feeding birds, such as quail, dove, song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow and dark-eyed junco. Hanging tube feeders or hopper feeders will attract songbirds, such as house finch, chickadee, jays, nuthatches and others. Thistle feeders will bring goldfinches, siskins and house finches.
Many kinds of bird seed are available. Black-oil sunflower seed is a favorite of many species. Its oil content is higher than striped sunflower seed, making it a better source of energy for hungry birds. Millet and cracked corn are favorites with many ground-feeding birds. Finches and siskins love nyjer thistle. Suet can be offered to attract woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches.
Buying bird seed from a reputable source ensures the seed is free of dust, insects and weed seeds.
Backyard bird feeding is a popular activity for people of all ages. It provides enjoyment, and it has also become an important research tool for documenting population trends of birds during winter. Participants in Project FeederWatch, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and the feeder component of the Christmas Bird Count have provided valuable data about wintering birds. These citizen-scientists have documented odd migration patterns, rare species, irregular migrations of specific species and much more.
Annual feeder data also provides an idea of what birds to expect at feeders. Project FeederWatch data from last winter shows that the most common feeder visitor in the Northern Rockies was the black-capped chickadee. Here in Idaho, the dark-eyed junco was the most common species, visiting 92 percent of feeders. The rest of Idaho's top ten species were house finch, pine siskin, northern flicker, American robin, American goldfinch, black-capped chickadee, house sparrow, European starling and mourning dove. This list gives a hint of the birds local residents might see in their backyards this winter.