Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

Welcoming Winter Birds

by Dan Hickey


Scouting for a snack, a chickadee perches on a snow-covered branch.

I couldn't survive Vermont winters without my daily dose of watching birds. When the garden is quiet and snow-covered, birds provide life and color. And attracting birds can be almost effortless. Just provide a few seed-filled feeders, and even on the coldest days you can enjoy the antics of the chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, and cardinals.

No matter where you live, you can attract birds to your winter garden with one or two well-placed feeders. Many types are available: tube feeders, platform feeders, finch feeders, hopper feeders, suet feeders, and other specialized feeders. Tube feeders, finch feeders, and platform feeders are probably the most common. Using one or several types in combination will attract many birds.

Just as we do, birds have food preferences. Studies show that each bird species prefers some type of seed over others. The feathers-down favorite among most species is black oil sunflower, so if you're using one feeder, that would be the seed of choice. Or to attract ground-feeding birds, choose white proso millet. But if you want to attract a particular species, use the seed that the species most prefers. I've listed several common birds found at feeders in winter in the United States and the seeds most attractive to each species. Consider these bird-welcoming tips when developing your community or school garden too. Whatever your goal is to attract a variety of birds or only your favorite species - winter bird-feeding will breathe life into your garden.

Setting Up Your Feeders

Because bird-watching is your goal, be sure to place bird feeders where you can view them easily from inside your house. It's best if feeders are sheltered from wind near low-growing shrubs and ground covers-many birds like to flit from these protected areas to the feeder. If you live in areas with deep snow, consider the convenience of filling feeders every few days, and buy one large enough to make that possible. Some window feeders can be filled without leaving the house.

If you want to see lots of birds, offer a varied menu at different types of feeders positioned at various heights. For example, an effective backyard combination might include a finch feeder with niger seed (4 feet high), several tube or mesh feeders (5 feet high) with black oil sunflower seed, and an elevated platform feeder (1 to 3 feet high) with a mix of proso millet and cracked corn. Space the feeders 3 to 5 feet apart so that larger birds can coexist with the smaller species.

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