November Nature Notes

Emily White

When fall is here, winter is already getting ready for its grand entrance. Here are a few preparatory tips for a great backyard bird feeding experience this winter.

Feeder Checkup and Inventory
Examine the feeders you currently use – are they clean, safe and fully operational? If not, scrub, repair or replace old feeders. An assortment of feeder styles will attract a variety of birds. Certain birds prefer ground feeders, and many respond well to suet feeders.

Serve Winter Hardy Food
Suet is the perfect food for cold weather feeding. With its high fat content, suet offers energy-rich nutrition to help birds stay warm. We recommend hearty blends by the Mill Creek Seed Co., which are packed with nuts and fruit for added protein and nutrients. Serve in a specialty suet feeder like the one I added to my yard last winter. The caged suet feeder by Duncraft keeps out squirrels and starlings while creating a safe haven for chickadees, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and even Carolina wrens.

Add a Feeder
A tray or platform-style feeder can be a great addition to a winter feeding program. Many of the winter visiting birds are ground feeding species that are attracted to flat, open feeding surfaces. Some to watch for are juncos, tree sparrows, and white-throated sparrows. Regulars such as cardinals, blue jays, and mourning doves will also make good use of this type of feeder. A good blend of sunflower and millet such as our Town and Country or Squirrel Free mixes are perfect for attracting ground feeding birds.

Adding a window feeder at this time of year is a great option also. Mount one now before the glass on windows is too cold for proper adhesion of the suction cups. I’m getting great pleasure from the window feeder that I recently put up on a sheltered living room window. Droll Yankees’ “The Winner” is an excellent quality window feeder with enough room for even larger birds like cardinals. I have mine filled with safflower seeds to discourage squirrels and starlings. My cardinals, house finches and chickadees seem thrilled to have their own private feeder and I sit back and enjoy the show.

Let Your Garden Go
It’s hard to resist the urge to pull up all the dead squash, sunflowers and thistles in your garden once the growing season is over; but the birds will thank you by feeding on the old seed heads of your flowers and garden plants. Sparrows, juncos and finches will abound in the thick, dead vegetation. Sure, the garden lacks a certain tidiness, but it will be full of birds.

Build a Brush Pile
Locate a brush pile 10-15 feet from your feeders to provide shelter in inclement weather. Birds will find refuge from bitter winds, snow and predators like hawks and cats. Stack branches crosswise to create air spaces. It’s nice to occasionally scatter a handful of mixed seed under the brush pile or under any thick shrubbery in the yard. Watch for shy, skulking bird species that may not regularly visit your feeders.

Bone Up
In order to identify all the beautiful birds that may visit your backyard this winter, you will need at least a basic field guide of the area birds. Reading a bit about the birds you see adds so much pleasure and insight to your bird feeding experience. There are many good bird books to choose from. Some to consider when starting out are London Birds, The Compact Guide to Ontario Birds and Stokes Beginner Guide to Eastern Birds. More detailed guides include Kaufman’s Birds of North America, National Geographic’s Birds of North America, and Sibley’s Birds of Eastern North America. These are just some of my favourites. We can help you select the right guide for your needs.

This is an exciting time of year for bird-lovers. Prepare to bring a little cheer into your backyards this winter.

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