Feed wild birds responsibly this winter

Last Updated: 
December 12, 2008

CORVALLIS - Long, cold winter nights can be hard on wild birds. You can help them out by growing plants around your yard that offer seeds and habitat through the winter or by providing supplemental feed at a bird feeder.

If you choose to feed your backyard birds, please do it responsibly, urges Nancy Allen, Oregon State University Extension wildlife instructor.

  • Once you start feeding wild birds, continue throughout the cold season.
  • Locate your bird feeder in a sheltered area, out of the pounding rain and howling wind, so feed stays dry.
  • Keep your feeder a safe distance - at least eight to 10 feet - from protective shrubbery where marauding house cats might lurk.
  • Do not feed birds breads or salty, sugary snacks. Most human food is unhealthy for birds.
  • Clean feeders regularly to prevent diseases. Scrape bird droppings and moldy food off feeders and rinse or wipe clean with a disinfectant solution of one part vinegar to twenty parts water. Allow feeders to dry before refilling.
  • Do not build feeders out of plywood, as some birds will eat the glue.
  • Store the seed in a tight, waterproof container to keep it dry and out of reach of rodents.

Not all birdseed mixes will suit all wild birds. Some birds, including finches and grosbeaks, eat only seeds and nuts. Others, such as chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers, rely on both plant and animal sources of food. Birds of prey, of course, may have a different interest in your feeder. Sharp-shinned and coopers hawks occasionally snatch up the unsuspecting bird at feeders.

Birds will often sort through mixed seed and discard what they do not want. Typically, less waste occurs if you provide only one type of food per feeder, rather than mixed birdseed. Experts recommend black oil sunflower seed as one of the best single seeds to attract a variety of birds to your feeder.

Insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches, will benefit from additional suet in the wintertime. Suet cakes can be purchased at garden stores. Or you can make your own using inexpensive beef suet wired to trees or placed in mesh bags or baskets.

Author: Peg Herring
Source: Nancy Allen