By Jennifer Higgins
February may be looking in its rearview mirror at the holidays now long passed, but the winter weather is sticking around. As we hunker down in the warmth and safety of our homes, you can see that our feathered friends outside are doing whatever they can to survive the elements. Though a significant number of birds migrate to more temperate regions over the winter, there are a few bird species that stick around, including nuthatches, woodpeckers, sparrows, chickadees and many more.
By the same token, just because the temperature outside has dropped and the snow is falling doesn’t mean nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and even novice bird watchers have given up on their quest to enjoy what nature has to offer. They are just enjoying all of it from a different vantage point: through their kitchen or rec room windows. What’s more, there is just as much to see of these winged and beaked characters as there might be in spring or summer—it’s just a matter of providing the season-appropriate housing, food and structures to keep our feathered and frolicking friends hanging around.
Birdie, It’s Cold Outside
Birds require three important elements all year round, but even more so in the winter: food, water, some degree of warmth and shelter. These items are even more essential during the winter months, as all three become very scarce at this time of the year.
Biology and evolution have ensured that many creatures are well equipped for all types of weather, and birds are no exception. During the winter, a bird’s metabolism slows down to conserve energy, and they will fluff their feathers to trap heat, much the same way a comforter or parka made with goose down works to keep those who use them—usually humans—toasty warm. However, when feather fluffing and metabolic management does not suffice, we can provide artificial sources of food, water, warmth and protection from the winter elements.
Food, Glorious Food
Those interested in keeping wild birds happy and healthy in the winter months should focus their attention on food, water and—to a lesser degree—shelter. Food is first on this list because not only are natural food sources scarce in winter, but whatever food nature provides in winter does not meet the nutritional requirements for birds to get through the winter and stay healthy.
Therefore, the food you put out must be high in fat and, to a lesser degree, protein. Suet is in high demand during the winter months and comes in a wide variety of ingredients. Packing on the fat is essential for wild, non-migratory birds that stay behind in the winter. Suets and the ingredients from which they are made are the most efficient and economical way to provide this important component of a wild bird’s winter diet.
Suet is a fat rendering food source and is often chock full of “prizes,” like nuts and even insects! Kaytee manufactures a Cedar Suet Feeder Wild Bird Feeder which can be easily mounted to a wall, fence or tree and is made from durable, renewable Red Cedar. Kaytee Winter Blend also boasts a premium blend of three types of seed with no fillers and the added surprise: Kaytee’s own Energy Chip, which boosts a bird’s strength to sustain them in the cold. Nuts are a great source of both fat and protein and insects get the vote for the best source of protein, which is also an essential part of a bird’s winter diet.
“Squirrels love suet, too, and can quickly consume a cake that would otherwise feed dozens of birds for days,” warned Joan Casanova, who promotes Cole’s Wild Bird Feed products. “To discourage squirrels, Cole’s Wild Bird Products offers ‘Hot Meats’ suet cakes, which uses a patented technology consisting of rendered beef suet, red chili peppers, sunflower meats, corn and oats. Birds love it, but squirrels don’t like the heat.”
Susan Parker of Scarlett Quality Pet and Wild Bird Food in Sauderton, Pennsylvania, takes pride in her company’s own manufacturing facility where they have created custom mixes for every season.
“In the winter, we feature our Winter Blend—we offer it in 20-pound bags,” she said. “It is a mix that is extremely high in fat and protein, two things that will be most beneficial for birds during the cold months.”
According to Parker, Scarlett recently added the Mr. Bird line to its product mix.
“It is a mixed seed and suet line of preformed and cylinder feeding blocks featuring premium ingredients, such as pecans, safflower and dried mealworms,” she said. “It brings a higher retail price point with nice margins. The high quality of product packaging makes it an easy sell.”
Hot Tub Time
Erva Metal Lawn and Garden Products is one of many manufacturers carrying an assortment of heated bird baths. These miniature avian hot tubs are all the rage, as more and more backyard bird enthusiasts want to keep birds coming to their property all year round, even in the winter. Not only does it provide a source of warmth, but it is also the best way to provide a source of hydration to birds during the winter.
“Birds lack the ability to convert snow into water, so it is important to provide a water source for wild birds in the winter,” said Alyse Burman of Wild Bird Shack in Mount Prospect, Illinois.
Furthermore, birds bathe all year round; bathing plays an important role in feather maintenance.
When water and/or food is not enough to keep them warm, birds will often seek shelter, such as a natural tree cavity or grass thicket. However, there exists a wide array of winter safe and cozy bird houses, nest boxes and other sturdy structures for hiding and supplementing warmth.
Wildbeaks.com promotes its Roosting House, which is predominantly for woodpeckers but can be used by other bird species. Nature’s Way Bird Products CWH3 Cedar Bluebird Box House is made of insect and rot-resistant premium cedar.
Stock up on winter wild bird wares to pique the interests of seasoned backyard bird enthusiasts and newcomers alike. You will not only boost your bottom line, but you’ll also enrich the lives of store patrons as well as the wild birds they love to watch.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Cole’s Wild Bird Products.