Audubon Offers Tips for Feeding Birds in Winter

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It’s cold and snowy out there, but despite the temperature, many Rhode Islanders consistently buckle up their boots and head out in the cold to fill their bird feeders each week. Determined to help our feathered friends survive the winter storms and freezing temperatures, they offer up seed, suet, peanut butter and other treats in their yards.

But are they really helping nature? Is trudging through the snow with a bag of seed making a difference for our winter birds?

“Absolutely!” answers Audubon Naturalist Kim Calcagno. “Keeping feeders full is a wonderful way to help birds in winter, and they can be a lot fun to watch as they go about picking and choosing from backyard offerings. Many people find this hobby to be an enjoyable way to interact with nature, and the birds can certainly benefit from a well-tended feeding station.”

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island shares tips for providing healthy options for birds and dispels some of the negative myths about feeding our feathered friends.

Use dry, fresh birdseed

Don’t use clumpy or tangy-smelling seeds, indications that the seed has gone bad. Hungry birds might still consume rancid seed, which can be a source of salmonella or cause infection.

Foods that humans enjoy are not always healthy for birds

Offer popular seeds like sunflower, nyjer (thistle), good quality seed mixes, suet, safflower and cracked corn. Don’t offer processed foods like bread, crackers or other baked goods. Avian digestive systems cannot process cooked food and it will not provide them with proper nutrition.

Keep Those Feeders Clean

Regular cleaning minimizes the chance of mold and mildew, which create unhealthy conditions for birds. Be sure to let the feeder dry completely after a good wash in warm water.

Don’t worry about going on vacation. The birds won’t starve. 

Birds find only about 25 percent of their diet at feeders and do not become dependent on your offerings. Birds have been feeding themselves for millions of years without our help. They are adaptable and will move on to forage in other places when one food source is no longer available.

An open source of water in winter can be a huge help

Offering a source of water after harsh storms or in extreme cold can be a huge benefit to birds. A simple, low wattage birdbath heater can be just enough to keep a water source from freezing.

Birds won’t choke on peanut butter

Peanut butter offers protein and fat that insect-eating birds might seek. Vegetable shortening is also an option for those with peanut allergies.

Place Feeders Near Trees or Shrubs

Birds are more likely to feed where they can quickly seek shelter from wind, weather and predators. Most birds will shun a feeder that is too far in the open and away from a source of safety.

Other Visitors to Your Feeder

Predatory birds such as hawks will often also forage at feeders, and not for seed. Be prepared for feeding ALL the birds, nature’s food chain won’t stop at your feeder.

If unwanted critters such as rodents, fox or coyote are foraging at your station, suspend feeding for two weeks or more. Many animals eat seed, but removing a food source for several weeks will often break their habit of visiting certain destinations for food.

Backyard birding can provide hours of enjoyment in the winter, with the added benefit of helping birds survive the most challenging months of the year. Go ahead and keep filling up those feeders – our feathered friends are sure to keep you company this winter and will appreciate healthy options to keep them well nourished as they brave the harsh weather found in New England.

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