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Feeding migratory birds in winter has been an old practice. Bird migration mostly happens twice a year — in fall and spring. In the fall, birds fly hundreds and thousands of kilometers south for winter. During this season, conditions for feeding sites can become unfavorable, especially for smaller birds. Their small body easily loses heat and quickly needs to find food to replenish their lost energy. In winter, migratory birds’ digestive systems adjust so they can use most of their energy for flight.
When they stop to eat, they eat less until reaching their destination, where they can normally eat again. However, thick snow and the limited hours of light make finding food difficult. Although migrating birds can cope with food shortages, it won’t hurt to give them a helping hand.
Migratory birds require protein-reach but low-fat foods. These foods help migratory birds recharge their strength and fulfill their long journey. The following are the best foods you can offer for feeding migratory birds and why they’re essential for bird health.
Birds know that fruits high in water content also contain energy-boosting sugar. That is why many migratory birds like robins, waxwings, blackbirds, and thrushes love watery fruits. Slice an apple, pear, or plum into small bits so birds could easily eat it. You can also offer a piece of orange, cherry, or grape as a treat. Fruits can either be left on the bird feeder, hang on chicken wire, or leave on the ground.
If you plan to feed migratory birds with raisins, soak them in warm water after chopping. This helps soften them up a bit.
Birdseeds for feeding migratory birds in winter
We all know that birds love seeds. That’s why they’re perfect for feeding migratory birds. Seeds help keep birds at a healthy weight in winter. The seeds also have essential vitamins and minerals vital for promoting a healthy beak. Here are some seeds you don’t want to want miss in your feeder.
Sunflower seeds. These seeds have high levels of protein and unsaturated fats. Take black sunflower seeds, for example. Black sunflower is a favorite due to their high oil content. Some sunflower seeds are larger than others, indicating higher calory. No wonder why lots of migratory birds love sunflower seeds, including greenfinches, cardinals, tits, and others.
Nyjer seeds. Sometimes known as thistle seeds, nyjer seeds are small elongated seeds rich in nutritious oil. They will provide birds with enough calories that will help store fat to keep them warm during winter. Nyger seeds also give the lasting energy that birds need to carry on their migration. Goldfinches, siskins, redpolls, California quail, and sparrows are among the birds that feed on nyger seeds.
Mixed seeds. Mixed seeds are a great option since it covers most seeds that birds need. However, most mixed seeds contain grains that lack the oil percentage vital for feeding migratory birds. For this reason, avoid mixed seeds that have cracked corn, oats, and milo in it. Instead, you can create your very own mixed seeds. Your mixed seeds can be a mixture of suet balls, popcorn, cranberry garland, and dried fruit.
Peanuts are one of the easiest foods for feeding migratory birds in winter. Any variety of peanut would do—whole, shelled, hearts, crushed, chips, and even peanut butter. Peanuts are rich in fat and protein essential for maintaining their body heat in the cold. Although ideal for birds, you should never offer any peanuts containing additives that could harm birds like salt, sugar, and spices. Only fresh and raw peanuts are safe for birds. Different migratory birds eat peanuts such as dunnocks, sparrows, greenfinches, nuthatches, wrens, and siskins.
Feed migratory birds in winter with kitchen leftovers
Kitchen leftovers can be used for feeding migratory birds in winter. Do you have some cooked pasta or uncooked rice? How about bread crumbs and grated cheese? Don’t throw them yet, for they can serve as food for birds during a harsh winter. Still, you have to be careful not to include oats and other cereals, for they can potentially stick and solidify around birds’ beaks.
Although mealworms may not look like ideal food for feeding migratory birds in winter, birds undoubtedly love to gobble them up. They provide a blended balance of protein, fat, and fiber to promote healthy, vigorous migrating birds. Aside from their nutritious value, mealworms appeal to a bird’s natural instinct, since they are part of many birds’ natural diets. While birds like mealworms are alive, dried is easier to keep inside a bird feeder because they won’t crawl off.
Sometimes it’s easier to feed birds directly from your garden in winter. If you have seed-bearing plants like safflower, don’t cut them all off in winter. It’s best not to harvest the seeds, for some might fall on the ground and turn soggy and inedible due to wet weather. Safflower, like sunflower, serves as a natural feeder for birds during winter. The seeds of safflower are high in protein, fat, and fiber vital for keeping birds warm and lively even in cold weather.
Feeding migratory birds in winter with other fat-based foods
Fatty foods are enough for providing migratory birds with adequate protein, carbohydrates, and calories in winter. Fat-based foods come in different sizes and forms, such as a ball, bars, or cakes. You can have your own homemade version by melting suet or lard and pouring it onto a mixture of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and cheese. Stir the mixture thoroughly and allow it to rest. The container of the mixture can be used as a bird feeder.
Food is not the only thing scarce during winter, frozen lakes, ponds and other water sources make it hard for birds to find water. And since water is as important as food, access to a fresh supply of drinking water is also helpful for birds. Putting out a heated birdbath and placing a small plastic ball on the surface will prevent the water from freezing.
How to Care for Migratory Birds
Pay attention to your bird feeders
Ensure that your bird feeders are filled up daily. Better to fill them up when birds need the most energy or before they roost for the night. If birds notice empty feeders for a few days, they will quickly find a new place with available food.
Also, make sure to hang feeders in places you can easily see them. This will allow you to know when you need to refill them. Ideally, placing feeders in locations with moderate heights will secure birds from predators and looters.
Clean off the ice and snow
Obviously, in winter, snow and ice will cover almost everything in your backyard, including bird feeders. Clean off snow and ice that accumulated in your bird feeders to keep the food accessible for birds. Putting some heat light under your feeder will provide enough heat to keep snow and ice from developing.
One major problem of migratory birds is disease transmission. Cleaning all feeders and water containers weekly will help prevent further transmission. When cleaning, make sure to use products that are safe for birds.
Alternation of places where you put feeders can also minimize the spreading of diseases. Even allowing the bushes in your garden to grow larger will provide necessary sustenance for birds in winter.
As discussed, winter months pose difficulties for our feathered friends. For cold weather limits the availability of bird foods, feeding migratory birds in winter will help.