By the time winter settles in, birds have, too. Migration is long over, and winter birds are ranging in groups over large foraging territories.
Many gardeners don't put out feeders because they're afraid that birds will rely on them and lose their natural ability to forage. But research from the University of Wisconsin shows that winter survival rates are higher when birds have both feeder and native food options, and that birds do in fact retain the ability to forage if feeders are removed.
Here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. High-calorie suet is vital to keeping birds warm in winter
Hang as many suet feeders as you have room for. High energy suet cakes are best-suited for freezing cold winters.
Feeders can harbor disease, and improper placement may expose birds to predators and other hazards. Prevent these drawbacks by choosing plastic, steel, or glass feeders, which are easy to clean and don't harbor molds and fungus. Clean your feeders at least twice a year by soaking them in a 10 percent bleach solution for three minutes, scrubbing them with a brush, and rinsing with clean water. Keep seed in dry, sealed containers and put out only enough seed to last several hours (or days, if dry weather is expected).
Protect birds from crashing into windows by stretching netting several inches in front of the glass. Also, placing feeders near shelter--hedges, trees, and gardens--is especially important. Cats kill several hundred million birds each year. Properly placed bird feeders may deter predation, since they allow birds to spend less time feeding and more time looking out for predators.
2. Keep a supply of suet in the freezer
Keeping a supply in your freezer ensures that you don't get caught short.
3. Lay in a stock of seed in case of emergency
You don't want to get caught short when you need it the most. Keep a 50-pound sack of sunflower seed in the trunk of your car in winter. It serves two purposes: extra traction when the roads are slick, and extra bird food should a blizzard descend.
4. Run an immersible heater to the birdbath
Or try a solar birdbath that uses the sun's heat to keep water from freezing. At the very least, you can put out a shallow pan or clay saucer of warm water once a day. Take it into the house when the water begins to freeze.
5. Treat birds to home cooking
Make muffins, bread, and other snacks with nutritious additions like sunflower seeds and nuts.
6. Expand the menu
Offer chopped nuts, doughnuts, raisins, and fresh orange and apple halves in feeders.
Put out cracked corn
Put out cracked corn and ear corn for squirrels, deer, and other wildlife. Apple peelings are also appreciated.
8. Recycle your Christmas tree
Recycle your Christmas tree as a bird shelter in the winter garden. It'll keep juncos and sparrows snug during storms and on chilly nights.