Finding food in the winter can be a tough prospect for Utah’s wild birds.
During the late summer and fall, most birds leave Utah for areas that are warmer. Those that stay find a food supply that snow, long nights, sub-zero temperatures, storms and frost-forming inversion layers have severely reduced. Only birds capable of finding seeds, berries, dormant insects and other limited food sources can survive Utah’s tough winters.
During the cold months of winter, birds need to eat regularly to maintain their body heat. And that’s where you come in. Unlike deer — which artificial feeding can actually harm — feeding stations can play a pivotal role in helping wild birds survive.
Bird feeding can also bring a host of small, colorful, fascinating characters right into your backyard. But once you get started, you have to stay committed to providing food for the birds every day.
Most birds develop feeding patterns, moving from food source to food source along a regular daily route. They will start to rely on feeding stations, especially during winter storms, cold snaps and other critical times. If the stations aren’t replenished on a regular basis, the birds may not have time to find other sources to last them through the emergency.
Simply scattering food on the ground or hanging a bird feeder in a tree are examples of simple feeding stations. More complex stations include multiple feeders placed at various heights with different seeds, types of perches and different sized openings.
Different types of food attract different types of birds, so setting up a complex feeding station should increase the variety of birds that will visit.
Wild birds have the easiest time finding food when the food is placed in an area where the birds would naturally look for it. A spotted towhee, which feeds on the ground, is more likely to find food left on the ground. A goldfinch, on the other hand, will be looking for food higher up in a tree.
Four basic feeding locations will accommodate most of the birds that eat seeds: Ground, tabletop, hanging and tree trunk.
Quail, juncos and most sparrows and towhees are ground-level feeders. Chickadees, finches, grosbeaks, siskins and jays are quick to find food in tabletop and hanging feeders. Nuthatches, creepers and woodpeckers prefer tree-trunk stations.
Most winter birds will eat sunflower seeds. They especially like the little, black, oily type of sunflower seed, and the grey-striped ones.
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, which is 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 the tree into a good suet feeder.
Fortunately, birds are more interested in the food than the cost or appearance of the feeder. Feeders made at home or bought in a store can both work equally well. Just make sure the feeder keeps seeds dry and has enough openings for birds to reach the food.
Spread feeders out to avoid concentrating a large number of birds in one area, and find or create areas where it’s easy to clean up spilled seeds and other messes. This will help control the spread of disease and food poisoning from moldy or spoiled seeds.
In addition to a constant, reliable source of food, the birds also need a safe, protected place to eat and rest. 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 housecats and other predators.
If you place a feeder in a protected yard, place it in the open, away from any cover that cats might use to sneak up on feeding birds.
Also, remember to place feeders where you can easily see them. A good place is near a window, balcony or another place where you can see the birds without disturbing them. Placing a feeder close to a window will actually cut down on birds flying into the window because, after leaving the feeder, the birds won’t have time to build up much speed.