This morning, before I came to work, I was stumbling around in the dark in 8 degree temperatures and sub-zero wind chills with a flashlight to make sure all of my bird feeders and waterers were well stocked for my feathered friends. I feed the birds year round, just to draw them close to the house because my wife and I like to watch them. We always have a good variety of birds around. It’s mornings like this one that I question my sanity... although my wife questions it all the time.
This was a good reminder of one of the most important things you need to do if you feed birds in the winter... if you start, don’t stop! Birds become dependent on you and if you stop when the weather turns nasty and you don’t really feel like getting out and filling the feeders (like this morning), you can actually starve the birds you were trying to help.
I find I fill the feeders more often in the winter than I do at other times of the year, just because there are fewer alternative food sources available. This is especially true if there are several inches of snow on the ground that covers other potential food sources for them. When it gets snowy, I take a piece of tin and lean it against a post so the seed I scatter on the ground for ground-feeding birds won’t be covered with snow.
Based on our experiences, here are a few suggestions if you are feeding our feathered friends. Anyone who feeds birds knows how easy it is for seed to turn moldy in feeders. Moisture from snow or rain can leak into feeders and turn bird seed into potential sources of illness for birds. You should keep feeders clean to help prevent the spread of disease to backyard birds.
Clean and disinfect feeders on a regular basis, taking care to scrape out old moldy seed that collects in corners. Wash feeders in warm water with dish soap, then rinse. Disinfect them with a solution of one part of a liquid chlorine bleach to nine parts warm water. Make sure feeders are completely dry before refilling them with seeds.
Also, if possible, provide water for birds. This is extremely important during the winter because other sources of water may not be available. It seems chilly, but birds regularly use our heated bird baths. Besides water to drink, they use it to help keep their feathers clean which makes them, for lack of a better term, fluffier, which gives them better insulation against bitter cold temperatures.
Anyone who really enjoys bird watching won’t want to miss an event later this month... and you can take part from the comfort of your own home. The annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held on Feb. 16-19. Participants are needed to count birds in their yards, neighborhoods, or other locations. Simply tally birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count, then go to birdcount.org and enter the highest number of each species you observe at any one time.
This program is conducted around the world. Coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and Bird Studies Canada, the count provides an instant snapshot of birdlife around the world. Last year, organizers receive over 180,000 checklists during the event and recording almost 6,500 species of birds. Also, you can watch as the tallies come in at birdcount.org.
Whether you observe birds in your backyard, a park, or a wilderness area, the Great Backyard Bird Count is an opportunity to share your results at birdcount.org. It doesn’t have to be hard, it takes me about one cup of coffee at my dining room table to record the birds I see in 15 minutes. It’s fun and rewarding for people of all ages and skill levels--and it gets people outside... or you can do like I do and watch from inside, too!
Information from the Great Backyard Bird Count participants is even more valuable as scientists try to learn how birds are affected by environmental changes. The information you send in can provide the first sign that individual species may be increasing or declining from year to year. It shows how a species’ range expands or shrinks over time. A big change, noted consistently over a period of years, is an indication that something is happening in the environment that is affecting the birds and that should be followed up on.
So, to take part in this activity for the birds, go to birdcount.org for online instructions and tally sheets... then enjoy our feathered friends. My wife and I have participated for many years... it’s easy and it’s fun! Just go to birdcount.org for all the information you will need.