Helping our Birds

Our winter here on the Texas coast has been rather cold and damp thus far. The cold front that blew in Sunday morning with strong winds and below freezing temperatures at night is just another in the long string of cold weather systems this winter.  These conditions make it hard on our feathered friends too, both those that live here year round and the migrants that are only with us for the winter. A couple of weeks ago Felipe wrote about bird adaptations that allow them to survive in cold weather, but even with these adaptations, they still have to eat.

Here at GCBO and in my yard on the far western edge of the county, feeding the birds is part of the everyday routine activity. Some of my favorite yard birds are Tufted Titmouse and Carolina Chickadee. Also, the Blue Jays that winter with me really add some beautiful color in the mix of Northern Cardinals and American Goldfinch. There is a group of four Inca Doves that come and eat under the seed feeders off and on during the day.

With a fairly wide variety of bird species, what can be fed to the largest number to minimize the time and fuss? Studies have been conducted by both the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to determine what bird food is preferred by various species that visit bird feeders. For the largest number of species, black oil sunflower seed is the top choice. All these birds preferred black oil sunflower seed: chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, finches, cardinals, grosbeaks, sparrows, blackbirds, and jays. Woodpeckers and dove will also eat them but may be their second choice. Black-oil sunflower seeds have a high meat-to-shell ratio, they are nutritious and high in fat, and their small size and thin shells make them easy for small birds to handle and crack.


The next most highly eaten human fed bird food is suet and it is the preference of woodpeckers. Pine Warblers and Orange-crowned Warblers will often come to suet feeders as well as most of our other seed feeder visiting birds. Suet is beef fat and so it gives birds that added high energy food needed to keep the metabolism pumping and their bodies warm. You can find it here at GCBO or other places where you buy bird seed or you can look online and find many recipes for suet you can make yourself.

There are many other options for feeding birds besides those two highly eaten foods, but if you want to keep it simple, stick with those two. If you are up for more options for the birds, here are other choices. Cracked corn or corn meal and white millet are other highly eaten foods.  For the ground feeding birds like doves, cracked corn and white millet can be spread on the ground or offered in a ground feeder. During the winter when the Goldfinches are here Niger thistle offered in a thistle feeder or thistle sock will disappear quickly as a flock will find it right away. Peanut butter is another high fat and thus high energy food that can be spread on tree trunks or pine cones or offered in suet feeders.

During this really cold weather, feeding the birds sure helps them survive and gives you a good reason to sit and look out the window.

By: Carol A. Jones


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