I have a special place in my heart for Chickadees. I think it’s because they are bold and brave, yet so small and vulnerable. I love to watch the wild birds from my kitchen window. I feel a great sense of kinship with my feathered friends, and that is why I want to explain how important it is for you to feed the birds, especially during the winter months. If you would like to feed them year round, all the better. Believe me, with their shrinking habitat here on Aquidneck Island and in many other highly populated places in the US, our bird friends need our help more now than ever. That is why I love Mary Poppins’ lovely song, “Feed the birds, tuppance a bag, tuppance, tuppance, tuppance a bag.” As the song says, it does not cost much to provide suet and sunflowers which are so high in protein to our feathered companions.
Bird Feeding has evolved into the number two American hobby right behind gardening. Humans have been drawn to birds and their feeding for many years throughout history. According to Wikipedia, we know that a monk who lived in the sixth century was one of the earliest known bird feeders. His name was Saint Serf of Fife, and he tamed a pigeon by feeding it. During the thirteenth century, the Italian saint, Saint Francis of Assisi, fed and ‘spoke’ to the birds as though they were his brothers and sisters. Throughout history, you will find that several saints had a special bond with our friends in the animal kingdom. Two very famous scientists, Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla, kept pet pigeons. Henry David Thoreau wrote of feeding birds at Walden Pond in 1845. During the same time period, John Jay Audubon wrote about feeding hummingbirds in his famous publication, The Birds of America.
In the harsh winter of 1890-91 in England, national newspapers implored people to put out food for the birds. According to Cole’s Wild Bird Feed website, in 1910, the United Kingdom’s Punch Magazine declared that feeding birds was a ‘national pastime.’ Finally, in January 1994, Illinois Congressman, John Porter, stated a resolution in the Congressional Record declaring February as National Bird Feeding Month; this was established because it is so difficult for North American birds to find food in the coldest winter months. It is a win- win for birds and humans since the birds are fed while people relax and feel more connected to nature as they observe their feathered friends.
Ten Tips for Winter Bird Feeding
- Put out feeders with a good size capacity.
- Provide nutritious winter seed foods: black oil sunflower seeds, hulled peanuts, niger seed and white millet seed. Mixed seed bags are easy to find.
- Offer fatty food too: Suet is a high energy food and helps bird stay warm in the winter. Suet is a favorite of woodpeckers and other insect-eating birds.
- Keep you feeders full.
- Be consistent and feed throughout the winter since your local birds may be counting on you in severe weather.
- Remember water: leave a pan of warm water out on winter days since birds can become dehydrated in winter even if surrounded by ice and snow. You can even purchase a heater for your bird bath. (Make sure your pan or bath is not too deep; you don’t want your bird friends to drown.)
- Stamp down the snow below: it’s easier for birds to find seeds if they don’t have deep snow to manage.
- Hang feeders in cat-safe locations: it is good to place feeders near shrubs or brush piles so that they have time to retreat to safety from predators.
- Remember to clean your feeder: clean with hot water and dry a few times throughout the season to optimize your feeding.
- Stock up on seed: there are many stores where you can find inexpensive bird seed and suet. If you store your seeds in cool, dry places, the seeds will last for months.
You can make your feathered friends happy and content throughout the winter and year by feeding them; their lives could depend upon it! You can visit the National Wildlife Federation’s online backyard store to purchase feeders while also supporting the Federation’s conservation work.