Birding enthusiasts are known for their willingness to travel many miles to catch a glimpse of that rare hawk or cross some elusive thrush off their list, but with the right setup, you can draw a variety of wintering birds right into your own backyard.
As their natural habitat shrinks due to human development, the various birds that call Utah home during the winter months find it more difficult to get enough food to survive.
Backyard feeders aren’t just a popular hobby — they can help many of these birds stay alive until the abundance of spring returns.
During the late summer and fall, most birds leave Utah for warmer climes. Those that stay find a food supply decimated by snow and ice, long nights and below-zero temperatures.
Unlike deer, which can actually be harmed by artificial feeding, wintering birds can benefit greatly from feeding stations, and many come to rely on them for survival.
Setting up a feeding station is relatively simple, but once you get started, you have to stay committed to keeping it stocked with feed until well into spring. Most birds develop feeding patterns, moving from one food source to another along a regular, daily route. The birds that visit your yard will start to rely on your feeding stations, especially during storms, cold snaps and other critical times.
Feeding stations can be simple or complex. Simply scattering food on the ground or hanging a bird feeder in a tree are examples of simple stations. Providing multiple feeders with different seeds, types of perches and different sized openings, and varying how high you place each feeder, is an example of a complex feeding station.
Different types of food attract different types of birds, so setting up a complex feeding station should increase the variety of birds you see. Four basic feeding locations will accommodate most of the birds that eat seeds: ground, tabletop, hanging and tree trunk.
Most winter birds like sunflower seeds. White and red proso millet, canary seed, and thistle or niger seeds are good for attracting smaller birds such as finches, sparrows, chickadees and siskins.
Suet and fruit will also attract birds. Suet, another name for fat, is a rich source of energy that some birds can use. Simply stuffing the suet into cracks in the bark of a tree can turn that tree into a good suet feeder.
Fortunately, birds are more interested in the food than the cost of your feeder or the look of it. Feeders made at home or bought in a store can both work equally well. Just make sure your feeder keeps the seeds in it dry and has enough openings so the birds can reach the food. In addition to a constant, reliable source of food, the birds you attract also need a safe, protected place to perch while they eat.
A natural setting that birds normally use is a great place to put a feeder. These natural settings not only block the wind and the weather — they also offer escape cover from house cats and other predators.
Another good place to put a feeder is in a protected yard. If you place a feeder in a protected yard, place the feeder in the open, away from any cover that cats might use to sneak up on feeding birds.
Finally, don’t forget to put it where you can see it — if you’re going to go to the trouble, you might as well enjoy the colorful array of birds that make their winter homes in Utah.