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Feeding Birds and Winter Preperation
November 17, 2008

The pretty half of Autumn has now passed.

No more Autumn blooms.

Fall colors were exceptional this year and some are still hanging on, but now it is time to rake.

Days continue to grow shorter and around here and clouds are more the norm than sunshine for the next couple of months.

Yes, a downside to living in Michigan or near the Great Lakes can be several cloudy days as well as lake effect snow.

It helps to prevent over populating this wonderful region, however.

Yes, we've had rain, wind, snow and a good mix of everything.

How I long for Spring, but that is a different program.

I'm still learning to appreciate everything nature and God offer us.

Akita (Keet) enjoys the evening walks, as they have become a leaf chaser's paradise.

So many times, she doesn't know which way to go or turn as leaves are blowing everywhere and pass her by sometimes.

Quick kill one leaf and pounce on another.

It makes for longer walk times, but very entertaining.

Birds are everywhere.

Step outside and you would think it is Spring as robins fill the air with chirps and song.

Cardinals, jays, different sparrows, finches, woodpeckers................. all fill the air with sound, color and movement.

Now who couldn't like that?

Amazing, some people don't like to deal with birds.

There loss, huh?

One thing was missing for me this fall and I wondered it this would happen.

Next to the garden center where I work, some construction is going on.

A new and large Menards will be going in.

But first, the landscape must be scraped and altered.

Well, this messed with the warm air flow of late summer and early fall.

Air currents that would follow the steep bank and stand of trees.

This created a nice updraft that the resident Red-tail hawks and their offspring would play in.

You have no idea what a treat that was for me to watch these large hawks play in the wind.

Time after time they would repeat this process.

Now, it is gone.

I did watch three Red-tails from home one day as they were circling low.

Out of no where, a fourth hawk came stooping in from high above to join what must've been a family gathering.

Every so often you are in the right place at the right time.

You are blessed, as you watch some of nature's drama unfold before your own eyes.

Or not......................

I recently relocated feeders for the winter and placed a platform feeder on the deck (Karen likes that).

We enjoy the close-ups of many birds.

Late Saturday morning, Karen quietly motioned for me to look out the window at an immature Cooper's hawk on the deck railing.

I moved to take a look.

I not only saw this hawk about ten feet from me, but I noticed a gray squirrel not more than five feet from the hawk on another railing close to the platform feeder.

No time to grab a camera, i didn't want to miss a thing.

I watched for what seemed like several moments, but in reality was but a few seconds.

The young hawk watched the squirrel as it crouched low and clung to the top of the rail.

Now there is a tree another four or five feet away and it does over hang the feeder.

You could almost hear the squirrel thinking and you could see the hawk wondering if this was worth it.

Typically Cooper doesn't mess with squirrels, at least not immature hawks, but they will and do have squirrel for lunch from time to time.

The squirrel climbed down a spindle and climbed back up.

Flicked a tail and seemed to almost challenge the hawk.

Cooper turned his head and flew off.

Did the hawk lack experience, or was it because squirrel isn't typical Cooper's food?

Did the squirrel know the hawk wasn't interested or was it aware of escape possibilities?

No matter, it was one cool moment of drama no matter how you look at it.

Mr./Mrs. squirrel went to the feeder to enjoy a meal.

Normally I will chase the squirrels away, but this time I figured it had earned the free meal and a little of my respect.

What seemed like minutes was actually seconds and will last a lifetime.

Every so often, nature brings the show to you.


Enough of that.

Lets get onto this week's subject.

Bird Feeding and Winter Preperation.


You may be and old pro at backyard birding (or Front yard) and have gone through the rigors of caring for birds in the winter, but many of you are rather new to feeding and caring for birds.

Hopefully this letter will give you some sage advice.

If not, maybe it will be worth a chuckle or two.

If you are like me, one of your main reasons for feeding birds is the joy you get from watching them.

It may be the only reason you feed and care for the wild birds and that is why your feeders are places where you can enjoy them the most.

You enjoy the sights and sounds the birds bring to your yard and it doesn't have to stop in the winter months.

Winter is the time of year when many birds need our help.

Taking extra measures or precautions for winter bird feeding isn't just for us that live in the Great White North or mountain regions.

The hardy people that live in the Great Plains region must endure sub zero temperatures and driving snow that feels more like sand blasting.

Snow and cold can happen in the deep south as well.

I recall a Thanksgiving Day football game in Dallas back in the early 1990's and the infamous "Leon Lett" play in the snow and ice.

Us northerners chuckle when a major city like Atlanta shuts down from an inch of snow.

The Pacific northwest can have some pretty wicked storms and very high winds.

That means you too must walk to feeders from time to time in the snow, cold and winter rain.

You do don't you?

There was a time when feeding birds was just for us to enjoy.

Now it is becoming more of a need for some birds in certain locations where birds are on the decline.

Yes, research shows that about 75% of a birds food still comes from nature

That percent is shrinking as natural habitats shrink, however.

Could it be that birds need us as much as we need them? Okay, let's get down to business.

If you are new to feeding for birds and you just put out a feeder or plan to do so, here is something you should know.

A vast majority of your birds already have winter feeding grounds or territories staked out.

That doesn't mean they wont come to new feeder locations, but sometimes it may take a while.

Winter preperation.

I'm sure you have your feeders located where you can watch your birds feed and flit around.

That could be from a kitchen window, family room, den, office window or four season porch.

For the winter months, you may want to move them closer for your convenience.

Not many of us enjoy trudging through snow, rain and wind to feed and water our birds.

Toss in some sub-zero wind chills and that can make a person ignore the feeders when birds need it the most.

Now protection is very important, so don't forget that aspect of feeding your birds.

If you have trees and shrubs close to your house or deck (like me, this is ideal for placing feeders and water.

Platform feeders work well on decks and deck railing and allow virtually all birds to feed (not to mention lots of furry critters).

Hang tubes, hoppers, fly throughs and suet feeders near trees and from branches (squirrels and other critters may be an issue).

Be careful when placing feeders near windows. The closer the better to avoid a deadly window crashes (3 to 12 feet seems to be ideal).

Window feeders also work.

Birds must feel safe before they will visit, if you can't offer protection then leave your feeders where they are, near protection.

For the best in winter feeding, you should have some practical and quality feeders.

Practical feeders are feeders that are easy to fill and stay closed once you fill them, plus they must be functional for your birds as well.

Practical is easy to clean as well.

Stay away from cheap and cutesy feeders.

Why pay so much for a bird feeder?

After buying two or three cheapo feeders within a few year span and you will understand.

All plastic feeders like those from Perky Pet and Artline will fall apart or get chewed up in no time at all

Quality feeders should last for decades and often a lifetime.

You can always tell when a manufacturer cares for birds, and the people that feed them.

Their feeders are designed to be functional all the way around and come with guarantees.

Tube feeders will have metal feeding ports, tops and bottoms.

They are easy to fill and maintain (ideal for fast winter fills).

Look for Feeders by Aspects, Droll Yankees and Duncraft.

These companies make durable and functional feeders that are made in America.

There is little room for cute.

Wooden hopper feeders should be screwed together using Cedar or Redwood, have a screened bottom for drainage and a seed distributor for a nice even seed flow.

Pole mount or have a cable or chain to hang from.

Platform feeders come in wood and metal, be sure they are built to last and have a screened bottom for drainage.

Drainage is important, you don't want your expensive birdseed staying wet and rotting at the bottom of your feeders.

Suet feeders are often cages designed to fit the suet cakes.

your suet feeder could be an old onion sack, a log drilled with holes or make a suet sandwich from wood, a few bolts an some wire.

When done up right, sandwiches deter Starlings from snatching your suet.

Peanut feeders for shelled peanut and peanut pieces offers a great source of protein and oil for several species of birds.

Woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, jays and other birds that can cling to the wire mesh tube feeder.

All styles of feeders come in different designs and sizes.

Find one with a large enough capacity so you aren't out there several times a day.

If you can have but one feeder or are new at feeding birds, get a nice tube feeder. I'm not a tray fan, but add a tray to allow larger birds to feed.

Offer several different feeders for the different sizes and needs for all the birds in your area.

You may find a specialty feeder or two that meets a certain need.

I enjoy my "Mandarin Sky Cafe."

It has a large seed capacity and is virtually squirrel proof.

One of the best kept secrets on the market and is American made. Toss some scratch food (corn and white millet) on the ground.

Juncos, sparrows, quail, pheasants and even turkeys may visit your yard.

I'd like to say that squirrels will feed here too, but they will go to the feeders where the good stuff is first and take the corn last.

Don't buy expensive mixes, mix your own blend if you find one that has worked for you in the past.

Wheat, milo and corn are added to inexpensive blends.

Buy corn as a separate item if you must have it.

If you can only get one feed or seed, make sure it is Black oil sunflower seed.

Black oilers often referred to as BOSS attracts the best variety of backyard birds and is loaded with goodies.

Safflower is mainly a marketing ploy and costs much more than BOSS.

Because the cost of bird feed and seed is up, you may want to train your birds to feed when you are home or offer food in the morning and in the evening when birds need it most.

While you're outside, collect some acorns if you have them and offer them throughout the winter.

Fruit eating birds.

In my neck of the woods, many birds that ate fruits and insects thought the rest of the year have changed diet habits and eat mostly seeds during the winter.

A few robins and Bluebirds hang around during the winter and the nomadic Cedar waxwings will show up in flocks to strip a Winterberry bush, crab apple or Viburnums.

Usually in the North, birds like cardinals, chickadees, etc. have changed their ways to seeds and a few insect eggs they may find.

Most fruit eaters and insect eaters are long gone.

Now that may not hold true for you.

If you have success with fruit and your birds, keep at it.

Some birds will eat small apple pieces, frozen and thawed cranberries, soaked raisins and other treats.

Offer fruits in separate trays near the ground or hang them on trees etc.

Offer fresh feed and make sure it is fresh in the feeders.

Anything out of the shell can spoil fast.

Nyjer, a soft shelled seed will spoil rather quickly if it sits to long in wet environment.


All life needs water.

And winter can make it difficult for birds to find fresh water.

Yes, birds can and do eat snow when they are thirsty, but this drives down a bird's body temperature and that takes more energy to drive the temperature back up

Energy needed to survive a cold winter's night.

To much energy spent now may mean death tonight.

Offer fresh water and for many of you, that means some kind of a heater during winter.

Once again, look for a heater that has some quality.

Thermostat controlled (turns on at 40 degrees or so) and a warranty.

Make sure your water source is close enough to protection and close enough for electrical hook up.

Use a good outdoor extension cord and plugged into an outlet that is wired to or is a "Ground Fault Interrupter" (GFI) outlet.

Protect connecting ends with plastic wrap and duct tape, if water seeps in it will throw a circuit breaker.

If this happens to you, your water source may freeze and possibly crack a good birdbath.

A bad connection or faulty heater will through the circuit, letting you know there is a problem somewhere and a GFI will prevent other electrical issues.

Solar sippers can be an option as long as your temperature don't get below 20 degrees above zero.

Colder than that and they become ineffective.

Sunshine helps too (not much of that around here during the winter).

If you are creative, you can use a light bulb in a flower pot under a saucer as a heater.

Don't worry about birds freezing in the water or wet feet sticking to metal perches.

All birds except hummingbirds have a nice under layer of down feathers that keep them dry and help to keep them warm.

A bird's scale like feet and legs do not sweat and blood flow slows down in the bird's legs during winter to save heat and preserve energy.

Just the opposite as in the summer.

Be sure water is near protection and keep it filled and fresh.

You may find more water is lost from evaporation than actual bird use on real cold days.

Keep the rim of your water source free from ice build up and place a flat rock or patio paver type brick in your water for birds to stand on and keep your heater in place.

As you can see by now, it helps to have your feeding and water station a bit closer to the house.

Toting feed and water every day can be a burden on long treks in snowy, cold conditions.

Another reason to have things closer to home...........................

Shoveling or snow blowing a path to your bird area(s).

Be sure to keep and area under your feeders shoveled or packed down and possibly under a shrub or two.

This is for many ground feeding birds like juncos, sparrows, dove and sparrows.

Toss some scratch feed on the ground for these birds.

Some folks go all out and construct a lean-to or over head protection to keep snow from collecting on feeders.

Some of you are blessed enough to have hummingbirds in the winter as well.
Again, be sure to use a quality feeder and keep your sugar water fresh.

Just because it isn't as hot outside, doesn't mean you can ignore the hummer feeder.

Change your water at least once a week or if the sugar water looks cloudy before hand, change it right away.

If you don't have plenty of protection for the birds, consider a temporary brush pile near your feeders.

Keeping things clean.

Water sources still need to be kept clean as do feeders.

In between cleaning, a cap or two of bleach in the bath will keep down algae and germs, but it doesn't replace a good cleaning.

Feeders can be sprayed with rubbing alcohol in between good cleanings.

It evaporates very quickly with no harm for the birds.

Often diseases (fungus and bacteria) can become a local feeder problem.

If this happens in your area, you should remove your feeders for a spell.

Contact your states Department of Natural Resources.

They may be aware of the situation and already issued an alert.

Winter bird feeding is a blessing and great joy.

With some planning ahead and some strategic relocating, you can enjoy your birds and wildlife even more this winter.

Keep a pair of binoculars handy

Maybe a bird guide

and possibly keep a list.

Who knows, you may spot a rare bird or one that is totally out of its element.

Bottom line, make things as easy as possible for you and as safe for the birds as possible.

Go to:

Gardening For Wildlife for a refesher on seeds and feeders.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought of the week.

Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) American Bishop

I like that quote.

We all seem to notice the great moments or huge achievements made by others and we say WOW.

What we don't notice is all the work that goes on quietly that makes that moment great.

Becoming a great leader or athlete doesn't just happen.

It takes years of hard work and dedication.

It takes falling down and failures.

Things behind the scene we never see.

It means picking yourself up and moving forward.

The same goes for you and me.

We aren't the people we are just like that.

It takes years of learning to become a good parent and spouse.

All the little moments, good and bad develop us into who we are today.

No one notices the small moments, but you know and I know and that's what counts.

Now that is worth a smile isn't it?

Smiles are one thing we can do no matter where or when, and smiles are one thing we can share and can make an impact right now.

Something small and simple like a smile can be something huge that leads up to great moments.

Smiles are character builders.

Share some character this week and smile pretty.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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