If you like to feed birds in the winter then it’s time to dig out the feeders and give them a good cleaning. In the early fall, the resident birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, juncos and jays, begin to establish their winter feeding territories. Once the birds have found an area that can provide them with sufficient food, they tend to stay with it, as long as the supply holds up. If your address isn’t on the territory by early winter, then it might never be! Some of the other birds likely to visit winter feeders, such as redpolls, grosbeaks and goldfinches have not arrived in the area yet. But if you want to improve your chances of attracting these species, your feeders must be up when they arrive. I usually put mine up in early October.
Some people have questioned whether or not providing food at this time of year will cause birds to abandon their normal foods, or perhaps delay their migration. The available evidence suggests that most birds utilize a variety of foods throughout the day; they will not just sit at a feeder and gorge themselves all day long. It seems more likely that most birds use feeders to supplement their normal diet, rather than to replace it. There is little research that suggests that winter bird feeding is in any way harmful to a bird’s health, except in those cases where people provide inappropriate food. Bread, for example, contains bulk but very little food value. There have been cases where birds have filled up on such “empty foods” and then died overnight, their bodies not having the energy to keep warm. Each year I see one or two feeders around town that include a lot of table scraps. This is probably not a good idea. The only birds likely to be attracted to such a feeder would be crows, ravens, starlings, and possibly Steller’s Jays. These are very aggressive birds. Once they move in, it is very unlikely that other species will get much to eat. Putting feeders out in October is also unlikely to affect migration patterns. Most migrants have left by then; and those that haven’t are generally not the seed eaters, so they will not be tempted by your feeders.
The best foods to provide local winter birds are seeds, (especially sunflower), and beef fat. Some birds prefer hanging feeders while others tend to feed only on the ground or on platform feeders. If you want to feed a variety of birds, you will have to provide a variety of feeding stations.But without question, the first feeding station you should provide is a hanging feeder with sunflower seeds. The small, black oil sunflower seeds seem to be most effective. The seed mixtures available in most stores are not as good at attracting birds in our area. At my feeders, only the ground feeding birds, such as juncos, choose these over the sunflowers. The mixtures also contain a lot of millet, which tends to remain in the feeders after all else has been taken.