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Winter Bird Feeding

As the days darken and temperatures turn colder and colder, nonmigratory songbirds are looking for food that is slowly less abundant. Highly nutritious insects and spiders that were easily available in the spring and summer, must now be replaced with fruits and seeds. This is the time of year that many bird enthusiasts roll out the welcome mat to make things a little easier for their feathered friends.


What types of seed should you provide? If you go down the birdseed aisle of any store, you will note that there are a lot of different options. To attract a diversity of birds, you will want to provide a diversity of food types.


Which seeds attract which birds? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, black-oil sunflower seeds attract the greatest number of species. These seeds have a high meat-to-shell ration, they are nutritious, high in fat and their small size and thin shells make them easy for small birds to handle and crack.


Nyjer, also known as Thistle seed, is a thin, oil-rich seed that is a good high energy choice for smaller birds, mostly finches.  It is very lightweight and must be used in a feeder specifically designed to hold it.  Mesh feeders or feeders with very small openings are best.

Sunflower Hearts have the same high nutritional value as Black Sunflower seeds, but with the shell already removed there is no extra effort expended to enjoy the food. It is also a great choice for bird watchers that are concerned about discarded seeds sprouting under their feeders.

Safflower is a good choice to attract larger birds such as blue jays and cardinals and has the added benefit of not appealing to squirrels, sparrows or starlings.

Striped Sunflowers have a thicker shell and are therefore harder for smaller birds to crack open.  Sparrows and blackbirds can struggle to open the shells and would be discouraged from coming to the feeder.

Millet is a small, round seed that is a good source of carohydrates and is readily eaten by finches, sparrows, blackbirds, doves and pigeons.

Corn is a low cost choice for feeding birds.  It has less nutritional value but is a good carbohydrate source and will not sprout if spilled.  Whole kernal corn is favored by jays, pigeons, doves, quail and pheasants, while cracked corn is easier for finches, sparrows and blackbirds to consume.

Suet is a great high-energy food to offer expecially during the colder months when birds are trying to stay warm. Suet cakes often have a mix of suet and seeds in them and appeal to a wide variety of birds.  Suet cakes are fed in cages built especially for them.

Why do birds suddenly stop eating at a feeder?  Bird seed has a shelf life.  It is important to buy fresh seed and to maintain clean feeders.  If the seed has turned bad or the feeder has not been cleaned out regularly, birds will not eat from it.  Storing your seed in an dry and protected container will help prolong the life of the seed and keep it free from mold and insects.

Water is a necessity of life and birds often struggle to locate a water source in the winter.  Providing water year round with the help of a small bird bath heater can give your birds the fresh water they need and desire.  Keep your bird bath clean, provide fresh water and you will attract many birds to your yard, including species that don't normally visit feeders.

Feeding wild birds can be a fun, relaxing and entertaining hobby.  The Michigan Audubon Society is a wonderful source of information to help answer your questions and find information about the different types of wildlife that you encounter at your feeder.