Feeding Birds During Winter – Milford-Orange Times


By Pat Dray
The place of the garden

Pat Dray.

Earlier this year, a mysterious outbreak caused widespread death of songbirds in the eastern United States, leading to a recommendation to remove bird feeders. However, reports of the disease have subsided and the Audubon Company has recommended owners to resume feeding the birds.

Here in Connecticut we have several wintering species including cardinals, goldfinches and several species of woodpeckers. If you’re an observer, you might also see some of the more unusual species, such as the American tree, white-crowned and white-throated sparrows, and black-eyed juncos. The birds you see in your garden feeders will depend on the food, water, and shelter they have.

Some birds, such as sparrows and juncos, feed on the ground and prefer their food on a tray or platform that can be placed on the ground or mounted on a pole. Others, like Cardinals, prefer hopper feeders, which have a seed storage component that releases food onto a tray when the bird lands on the release mechanism. Some ground feeders will rarely land on a raised feeder, but will easily eat seeds that have fallen to the ground from a feeder. There are many shapes and sizes of feeders out there, and they can be quite elaborate and expensive, so use your judgment on what best suits your needs.

Different species of birds also prefer different types of seeds. Finches and woodpeckers (as well as most others) will prefer sunflower seeds. The black oil sunflower seed that you’ll see offered in stores is a small seed that is high in energy and has a thin shell that makes it a favorite. Finches also prefer millet. Your choice of feeder and seed type will allow you to attract the number and types of birds you want to attract. It also means that you won’t attract unwanted birds, such as pigeons and doves, which prefer corn.

Birds also need a source of water. They prefer ground-level baths, so don’t feel pressured into purchasing a fancy pedestal-mounted birdbath. A shallow pot works just as well. You can put a few stones or branches in the water so that the birds can stand on them and drink without getting wet.

Now let’s move on to maintenance and protection issues. Please be extra vigilant about cleaning and maintenance, as the cause of songbird disease is still a mystery. However, we do know that dirty feeders can develop mold and bacteria that can make birds sick. To clean a feeder, soak it in warm water with a mild soap, scrub it, and then disinfect it by immersing it in a 10: 1 solution of bleach and water. Rinse it and dry it thoroughly.

To protect yourself, it’s important that your feeder is no more than 10 feet from shrubs or trees so birds can escape predators. There have been sightings of black bears here in Connecticut, so it’s best not to keep your feeders outside from March through November if you are in an area where bears are prevalent.

If you want a fun activity this winter, check out Cornell University’s Project Feeder Watch, where you can count and track birds and enter your data. Visit feederwatch.org for more information.

Pat Dray is a former president of the Orange Garden Club and a master gardener.


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