By SANDY BARNOSKY
The Pet Lady
Special to The Gazette
A brilliant scarlet cardinal perched outside a window in a snowy landscape is enough to know why winter is the best season for feeding birds. Aside from the joy they bring us, feeding the birds keeps them alive during severe weather and gives them a healthy start in the spring breeding season.
We havenâ€™t had the number of visitors to our feeders this winter as in the past, probably due to the warm spells weâ€™ve had, but there still is enough activity at the feeders to enjoy bird watching, Medina birder MaryÂ Sandmann said. In the Medina area, birds you can expect to see at your feeder in winter are cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, doves, chickadees, juncos, song sparrows, starlings, goldfinches, purple finches, house finches, several kinds of woodpeckers and the tufted titmouse.
Nuts are a favorite food for some species while berries and fruits are important to others. Having unfrozen drinking water also will lure birds to your viewing area. Once winter feeding is started, it should be continued until late spring. Store seed in a covered, weatherproof container to reduce problems from mice and insects and prevent mold.
While cardinals and blue jays eat striped sunflower seeds, the smaller, thinner-hulled black oil sunflower seed is easier for little birds, such as the chickadee and tufted titmouse. Bluebirdsâ€™ bills arenâ€™t designed to open the seeds, so buy black oil sunflower seed hearts or chips to attract them. Birds also will clean up the bits and pieces on the ground. To avoid the mess of hulls, consider feeding shelled sunflower seeds.
Unshelled, dry-roasted and unsalted peanuts are high-protein, high-energy food for jays, woodpeckers, cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, jays and juncos.
Store-bought or homemade suet attracts nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals and other birds that feed on insects and insect grubs during winter. Fat is an excellent source of energy for birds, and a suet cake can be hung from a branch in an old mesh onion bag. Bits of peanuts, peanut butter, raisins, apple or other bird foods can be stirred into melted lard to make homemade suet. Press it into a pan and freeze it for quick bird treats.
Finches, chickadees and juncos eagerly consume the tiny black seeds of niger thistle. Sandmann also has seen bluebirds, cardinals and woodpeckers eating this. Seed can be put in a tube thistle feeder or a mesh thistle sock. Finches cling to and pull seeds out through the mesh, while sparrows and doves consume seeds that fall to the ground.
Safflower, a white, thin-shelled, conical seed, has the reputation for being the favorite food of the cardinal, but also accepted by chickadees, finches and nuthatches. Sandmann said safflower is a good seed to feed because the less desirable birds donâ€™t like it as well.
Sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves and squirrels will eat cracked corn, but depending on where you live, you may also get turkeys, quail or deer.
Offering fruit to tanagers and orioles is traditional in the spring, but bluebirds and robins will eat fruit too, so set out a few grapes, raisins, slices of apple, banana or citrus fruits. Sandmann tells of a robin that drove her family crazy because it wouldnâ€™t stop pecking on the window for raisins.
Homemade bird treats can be as easy as smearing peanutÂ butter on a tree trunk or in pinecones, and poking peanut bits into it where it will be an unexpected surprise for chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.
Mealworms, a special treat, arenâ€™t worms at all but a larval form of a grain-infesting beetle that can be raised or purchased at pet stores. They should be offered in a shallow ceramic dish so they canâ€™t crawl out the slippery sides. Their movement will lure bluebirds, finches, nuthatches, woodpeckers and chickadees.
If you donâ€™t want to clean up seed hulls in the spring, you can buy No Mess Deluxe Blend, Sandmann said. Inexpensive seed blends may contain large quantities of millet or cracked corn, which arenâ€™t preferred by desirable birds, so read labels.
Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at email@example.com or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.