Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Should You Feed Wild Birds In The Winter

Winter weather will soon be here in many parts of the country, yet many of us enjoy our wild birds year-round. Should you continue feeding them in winter? What should you feed them, and how should you go about it?
The "conventional wisdom" has always been that you should feed wild birds in winter because their normal source of food – small seeds and insects – has dramatically diminished. But is the conventional wisdom correct? By attracting birds to our feeders, are we making them too dependent on a free source of food, and weakening their ability to find food on their own? Do we actually put birds at greater risk because of cats and flying into windows?
These are not easy questions to answer because there has been little research into the subject. However a three-year study of chickadees by the University of Wisconsin found that winter survival rates were highest among chickadee populations that were fed – but only during the harshest winters. During more moderate winters (and lower latitudes) there were no significant differences in survival rates and spring hatching rates between chickadees that were fed and those that foraged for themselves.
Squirrels and Raccoons are a constant problem, as they will empty a feeder, denying your wild birds their food. They will destroy a wood or plastic feeder by chewing though it, so the additional cost of a well-made feeder is money well spent. Some squirrel-proof feeders are quite effective, but proper installation is the real key to keeping moochers off your feeders.
Maintaining your feeder. The most important part of maintaining your feeder is ensuring that the food is fresh and clean. A huge feeder with a "ten pound capacity" is not necessary or even desirable because it is likely the food will spoil before it is eaten. Some very good tube feeders will hold a lot of food, but the purpose of the long tube is to prevent squirrels from hanging from the top, not for huge food capacity.
After a rain or period of damp weather, inspect your feeders and discard any food that has gotten wet. Wet food will coagulate in the feeder, blocking food from naturally dropping to the feeding ports. Also, wet food is a breeding ground for algae and mold that will discourage birds from eating and may make them sick.
Set up more than one feeder with different types of food – perhaps sunflower seeds in one, and finch food in another.
Your feeders should be installed to minimize the chances of predation. The primary preditors are cats, so the feeder must be installed so that cats cannot climb or jump to the feeding area.
Bottom line – don't feel you are doing your birds harm by feeding them during the winter. Follow the above suggestions, and you can enjoy your wild birds all winter long.

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