Make Some Feathered Friends

You can build the ultimate bird-friendly yard to feed year-round avian visitors, plus any unexpected guests who layover during a storm.

By Leah Zerbe

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Make your backyard bird-friendly this winter!Go soft on bird food. Since new types of birds are resorting to making our backyards their restaurants of survival, we need to provide them with what they need. Roth explains that orioles, tanagers, thrushes, thrashers, wrens, cedar waxwings, vireos, and wood warblers of several species are soft-food eaters, and crave things like suet and peanut butter or other fat-based products, as well as mealworms and fresh and dried fruit. "All the more reason to broaden your feeder menu, plant more berry bushes, and keep your hands off the pesticide bottle: These birds are insect eaters, big time," says Roth.

Offer more variety than a department store. "A feeding station stocked with a variety of foods and feeder types draws way more birds of way more kinds than just sunflower, millet, and suet," Roth says. She suggests:

1. Stock up on a variety of bird foods, such as suet; birdseed of various kinds, including black oil sunflower, millet, and niger; nuts; and specialty mixes containing fruit or nuts.

2. Put out a variety of feeder styles, including trays, hoppers, tubes, suet cages, and log feeders.

3. Keep the birdbath full and invest in a heater or a heated bath model for winter, because water is a big draw all year round.

Stay stocked during storms. Storms may bring some of the most spectacular bird feeder sightings you've ever encountered.

"Fox sparrows, towhees, dick sissels, native sparrows of a dozen species, horned larks, meadowlarks, and all kinds of birds that may not usually visit your feeder may show up to get a helping hand," says Roth. "And if it’s an untimely, early-fall or late-spring snow or ice storm, you may see neotropical migrants that got caught in it, such as tanagers, orioles, vireos, wood warblers, and lots of others."

Roth even encountered a very unexpected feeder guest one year—a great blue heron! "It was scarfing down seed with that monster beak while standing at the wooden tray mounted on a three-foot-tall post—just his size," she says. What draws them in? In winter, absolutely it’s food—abundant food, easy access, a variety of foods to suit every taste (which is why suet and other soft foods are important, since many birds don’t eat seeds). Just like restaurants, feeding areas that draw a crowd will attract more customers. "The presence of your feeder 'regulars' advertises your feeder to any hungry bird that may be flying over."

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