Winter Wings-Wintering Birds

Pennsylvania has over 400 species of birds. While most leave in the cold months to find warmer weather and food (migration), some (resident) species stick around and tough it out. Over the winter months, the berries, seeds and insects these birds typically feed on are hard to find, but we can help our feathered friends get what they need to stay strong and healthy! Many different options exist when it comes to bird food and feeders, and you will attract a different variety of bird species depending on the type of food and feeder you use.

Get Your Grub On
Seed is the most common bird food. Of the 20+ birdseeds sold in stores, the best seed to use is small, black-oil sunflower seed. With the high oil content birds need and a thin seed coat for easier eating, this seed is preferred by a wide variety of smaller bird species such as chickadees, nuthatches and titmice. Other good seeds are striped sunflower seeds (hulled to make it easier for the birds to eat them), which attract blue jays, cardinals and larger species. A seed mixture of proso millet, niger and peanuts attract species such as finches, blue jays, chickadees, titmice and wood peckers. Having a seed mix could, however, attract some less desirable, bully species like house sparrows and cowbirds. When buying birdseed mixes, be careful as some of the cheaper commercial brands use fillers like wheat, milo, oats, rice and rye seed that birds will not eat.

Another type of food used less frequently is suet. Suet is animal fat that birds feed on for nutrients. It can be found in the met section of most grocery stores. Usually it is sold with a mesh bag for hanging. If not, any mesh bag or wire mesh suet feeders will work. Some stores sell suet cakes that contain pieces of seed and fruit.

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Serve It Up

Just like each species of bird prefers a different seed, they also prefer certain feeders. The best feeder is one that is sturdy, keeps water out, easy to put together and clean. The three most well-known types are hopper/house feeders, tube feeders and tray/platform feeders. Hopper/house feeders look like a small house with Plexiglas sides on a standing platform. These feeders attract ground-feeding species because they are able to stand on the platform, yet, they can also attract hungry squirrels that will scare away the birds and eat the seed. Tube feeders are hollow Plexiglas cylinders with feeding ports and perches along its length. If you use this type of feeder, be sure to have perches of various lengths so that both large and small birds can use it. These feeders are also good for deterring squirrels. The most popular feeders are simple tray/platform feeders on which the birdseed is spread. Like the hopper/house feeders, these feeders are designed for ground-feeding species, but can also attract squirrels. If you decide to use suet, thistle, peanuts, mealworms or fruit to feed, there are other specialty feeders designed for these foods.

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Location! Location! Location!

Where you place your feeder has a huge impact on the success of your venture. Birds will feed where they feel safe and secure. They will be more inclined to visit sites with cover and water close by. Any source of water, such as a bird bath or natural water, will provide water for drinking and bathing, and attract more birds to your feeder. Keep your feeder within 10 feet of protective cover, such as trees and shrubs, but within view from a window so you can watch the birds that stop by to visit! 

**For more information on wintering birds and their feeding habits, or for details on how to make your own feeders with a kid-friendly craft, visit the Penn State Extension website