Hungry wild birds need help until spring |

Hungry wild birds need help until spring

JoAnne Skelly
For the Appeal

To feed or not to feed, that is the question. I’m not talking about the bear controversy, I’m talking about birds.

I’m an avid birder and love to watch the many species around my home. Each fall, I start hanging various feeders throughout the yard, including thistle socks, hangers for black-oil sunflower seeds and other mixes, and a suet feeder.

Because the feeders attract birds, I make a commitment to keep those feeders full from now until April. Don’t just hang a feeder and then later, when the birds haven’t gone south because you fed them past their migration date, stop feeding them in the middle of the cold season.

How will they survive? Although they could migrate when you stop feeding them, there will be no food sources as they travel south through cold areas to get to a warmer place.

Birds need a source of water each day. As the birdbath freezes, I have to bring out fresh water. Birds also need shelter. Fortunately, my yard has a lot of evergreen trees to provide cover so the birds can find protection during cold weather.

Additional chores include cleaning feeders and birdbaths regularly to prevent the spread of disease.

Moldy or decomposing seed and droppings in the feeder trays or on the ground can make birds sick.

Feeders need to be washed with hot soapy water every two weeks, or more often if heavily used. They then must be rinsed in a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach. Finally, they have to be completely dried before refilling.

For me, the work is worth the reward. Thistle socks not only attract finches – lesser, American, Cassin’s and house – but also juncos, pine siskins and of course multitudes of sparrows.

The black-oil sunflower seeds also draw in many kinds of birds, including black-headed and evening grosbeaks, tufted titmice, nuthatches and chickadees. Birds such as morning doves, towhees, quail and grackles love to pick up the fallen seeds on the ground under the feeders.

If you choose to feed birds this winter, place your feeders near a window. Keep some binoculars and a bird book handy, and be prepared for hours of entertainment all winter.

For more information on identifying, feeding and caring for avian populations, go to Cornell University’s Web site

For more information on gardening, e-mail or call me at 887-2252. You can “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing or call your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.