JoAnne Skelly: Guidelines for feeding birds in the winter |

JoAnne Skelly: Guidelines for feeding birds in the winter

JoAnne Skelly

Gardeners love to be connected to the outdoors, even when the cold of winter keeps us indoors. One way to enjoy nature when confined inside is to hang bird feeders outside windows. The activity of the birds is great entertainment for the amateur naturalist in each of us, young or old.

For successful bird feeding, there are a few guidelines to follow for bird health. Once you begin feeding the birds, commit to doing so through the entire winter and spring until natural food sources become available again. If birds stay to feed at feeders as the cold weather begins, they can miss their window for migrating safely while native food sources are available along their path of migration. You will need to provide them food consistently for months.

Another necessity for their survival is a clean water supply. Keep birdbaths and water sources free of ice when temperatures drop. And you have the additional chores of cleaning the feeders and water containers every two weeks to avoid the spread of disease among the birds. Caring for the birds you feed is a responsibility that goes beyond just putting out food.

Hanging different types of feeders with an assortment of foods will attract a wider variety of birds. There are tray, platform, hopper, window, tube, Niger and suet feeders. Black sunflower seeds are the best overall attractant. We have had flocks of black-headed and evening grosbeaks and many other birds come to our sunflower feeders. The smaller birds, such as black-capped chickadees, lesser and American goldfinch, house finches and song sparrows are attracted to the Niger thistle we put out in yellow bird socks. Quail, mourning doves and rufous-sided towhees scavenge under all the feeders, but love the white millet, milo and cracked corn that comes in quality birdseed mixes. Woodpeckers, nuthatches and jays come to beef fat suet feeders.

Some problems come with feeding birds. You are likely to attract various predators such as Cooper’s, sharp-shinned and red-tailed hawks that will eat the smaller birds. Jays can be aggressive feeders, driving off the songbirds. Birds coming to feeders more than three feet from a window may crash into windows and die as they exit the feeder. Squirrels, rodents and bears like bird food, particularly cracked corn and sunflowers and may be unwelcome visitors in your yard.

For excellent information on birds, including feeding them, go to Cornell University’s

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.