Tips for feeding wild birds, safely and responsibly:
1. Give them choices.
Think variety is for the birds? Well, you’re right. Different types of birds will flock to different types of feeders and food, so mix things up. Tube feeders are easy to clean and great for little birds. A low platform feeder will attract ground feeders. Hopper feeders have storage bins that hold a lot of seed — a real convenience for hard-to-reach spots and windy locations where lighter foods can blow away.
Variety is also important as far as food is concerned. Some birds, including finches and grosbeaks, only eat seeds and nuts. Others rely on both plant and animal sources of food. For the seed-eaters, if you’re going to buy just one seed, reach for black oil sunflower. It will appeal to the largest variety of backyard birds. Insect-eaters such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches like protein-rich suet and peanuts —these foods are like energy bars for winter-weary birds. And goldfinches love niger seed.
2. Find a safe perch.
There are lots of things to consider when you’re choosing a spot for your birdfeeder: swooping hawks, pouncing cats, thieving squirrels, howling winds and voyeuristic humans. Find a place that’s easy for you to view and access and that’s dry and protected from the weather and predators. Caged perches and squirrel baffles are available to keep small predators from stealing the food. You could also put a cob of corn in a different location to divert squirrels from raiding your feeders.
3. Keep it clean.
At least once a season, clean your feeder to protect your feathered friends from disease. Empty out remaining seed, scrub with soap and water, soak in a light water and vinegar solution (20 parts water to 1 part vinegar), rinse and dry thoroughly before refilling.
4. Make a splash.
Water can really set your backyard bird bistro apart from the rest. In cold weather, bathing can help birds improve the insulation capacity of their feathers. An ideal bath is shallow (1-2 inches), at ground level and sheltered from surprise attacks. If freezing temperatures are expected, add hot water to your bath in the morning or invest in a bird bath heater designed for outdoor bird baths. (Molbak’s has a large selection of winter-friendly birdbaths.)
5. Plant bird-friendly favorites. Treat your backyard birds to a berry feast by planting evergreen huckleberries, snowberries and chokeberries. Consider adding some low-growing evergreen shrubs or conifers to your landscape — dwarf mugo pines are a great choice. Nandinas work well, too, and they offer brilliant fall/winter color. When the winter winds whip up or predators are overhead, low-profile shrubs will provide a safe haven for your feathered friends.