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Rural Living for January 6, 2011

Feeding Wild Birds

by Carol Dunn

HUERFANO- The birds that are still around in this new year are moving a little slower during the cold weather.  About 2/3 of the birds in the United States migrate south during winter, and Colorado is in the central migratory flyway.  In the fall we host various species as they make their journey.  The ones that are here now are probably here for the duration of winter.  Feeding these birds helps them withstand the cold, snowy weather.

    If you have a cat, or nearby neighbors have cats, you probably should pass on attracting birds to a feeding station.  Even a cat that is well fed will kill birds – it’s their nature.  When you decide to feed birds around your homestead during winter, make a commitment to continue feeding them until spring arrives – meaning berries or other food will be available for the birds.  It’s best to check your feeder every few days to refill it and, if the humidity has been high, to make sure the food has not gotten moldy.  Clean away bird droppings on and around the feeder.

    If you have a problem with squirrels raiding your bird feeder, eliminate the sunflower seeds.   Squirrels will dig for them, dumping the rest of the mixed grains on the ground.  You can bait the squirrels away from your bird feeder by setting up a separate feeding station with sunflower seeds or peanuts just for them.  If squirrels are not an issue, a US Fish & Wildlife Service study found that black oil sunflower seeds are the most preferred feeder ingredient for seed eating birds, and white millet is the next most consumed.

    Birds will eat other things besides seeds.  For instance they will eat stale bread (don’t use fresh), leftover pasta, popcorn, dried berries, chicken bones with meat scraps on them, and suet (hard sheep or beef fat).  Only use suet if the temperatures stay below 40 degrees F, otherwise it will turn rancid.  According to Charlene Miller at, you can make your own suet cakes using bacon fat.   Melt the fat, then add peanut butter, honey, corn meal and chopped fruit.  Pour into empty tuna cans and allow to harden in the refrigerator.  Hang the entire can from a tree, or tack it to the tree with a brad nail, to nourish insect eating birds (seed eaters are not attracted to suet).

    According to Joe Julian with Colorado State University, finches, chickadees, siskins, juncos, jays, woodpeckers, flickers and nuthatches may visit your winter feeder.  Local birdwatchers also report grosbeaks, sparrows, towhees, crows, starlings, robins, grackles, magpies, doves, and an occasional creeper or thrush in Huerfano County.