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Winterize Your Wild Birds
There's a touch of fall in the air. The days are shorter and the nights cooler. For those living in places where the leaves put on a spectacular show of color, it's a sure sign that winter isn't far away. Wild birds are beginning to prepare for the harsh weather by 'winterizing' their bodies. Backyard birders need to get their feeding stations in order right away to help these beautiful feathered friends find plenty of food. Now is the time when wild birds begin storing body fat that is essential to their survival. As their natural food sources disappear for the winter or become buried in snow, they rely more and more on birders to keep fresh seed in their feeders.
As increased numbers of species gather in flocks for migration, you'll notice much more activity around your feeding stations. In addition to your resident birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers, you will have periodic visits from migrating birds. They are largely insect eaters that need to relocate before the frost sets in killing their staple food. Once they are settled in for the winter, they will rely on bird seed and suet as their substitute food. Juveniles will hang around with their parents one last time before they fly off to establish their own territories. Of course, they'll be filling their bellies to sustain them in the search for their new home, so birding activity will be on the increase for this reason also.
Keep binoculars and a bird identification book or device close by to help identify any new species that stops for a fill-up at the feeder. It's one of the most exciting times to be a birder. In addition to various types of bird seeds, wild birds need the fat and nutrients provided from suet. There are many feeders that not only hold bird seed but have an attached suet cage as well. Many bird stores also stock suet in pellet form. This is much less messy than suet cakes and the amount supplied for the birds each day is easier to control. And, don't forget to keep fruit such as oranges and apples with either suet or peanut butter for fruit eaters. Bluebirds and others that prefer mealworms don't have to wait until spring for their favorite food. Keep them happy all winter by using a mealworm warmer that keeps the worms alive, wiggling and tasty.
Bird feeders should be kept clean and repaired at all times, but particularly in the fall in preparation for the increase in the number of birds using the feeders. There are products on the market that make cleaning feeders much easier - often as easy as dunking a feeder in a bucket of water containing the safe cleaning solution. Stale seed or dirty feeders can be a health hazard for wild birds. What's a sure way to attract birds to your feeders? Provide a source of water, especially in winter! Available water in freezing weather will attract at least as many birds as a well stocked feeder. There are a variety of submersible heaters placed directly in the water that are economical and can be safely used in bird baths. Use a high-quality outdoor extension cord to plug the heater into an electrical source. Particularly in winter it's best to use a plastic rough-surfaced design since ceramic and concrete bird baths will easily crack in frigid weather. Birds actually use water to stay warmer in winter. By cleaning their feathers and grooming them with natural oils, our feathered friends are able to help insulate their bodies from cold.
About 70% of a bird's nonfat body tissue is water. That needs to be maintained to avoid dehydration. Birds find some water in natural food sources such as insects, berries and even snow, but when those supplies dwindle, the water supplied by bird baths is even more vital. Just as the leaves change color in the fall, so does the plumage of some birds. The goldfinch, for example, undergoes a plumage change that drastically alters their appearance. The bright yellow starts to fade making it somewhat difficult to tell the male from the female. The purpose is to provide protection from predators when the trees are bare. Each season brings with it a wonderful new experience as nature continues the same path it has followed for thousands of years. Backyard birders are privileged to witness one such experience when the wild birds begin their winterizing ritual.