February is National Bird Feeding Month and also time for the Great Backyard Bird Count. If you have not participated in this annual bird count, take the time this year to do so. You’ll have a great time and provide usable data to the biologists at the Cornell University Bird Lab. There is no cost.
Winter is far from over. And as the natural food sources for birds become increasingly scarce or covered by snow, the bird feeders will continue to draw more visitors. Heavy snows to our north have been driving more birds into our area, and new ones can arrive at anytime. Keep vigilant about new birds at the feeders. Already this seems to be a banner year for Dark-eyed Juncos, Goldfinch, and Pine Siskin. We have had several reports of Snow Buntings and I would not be surprised to see Red-winged and White-winged Crossbills showing up.
The Central Great Plains seems to get the heaviest snowfalls in late February and March. Remember that “grit” is essential for birds to digest the seeds they eat. If the ground becomes covered by snow and ice, mix a little grit in your feeders or place some in an open space where it will not become covered with snow.
Suet will become even more popular now that winter has really set in, and will continue to be so through all of spring and well into the summer months. Woodpeckers consume about 30% more animal protein from late winter to mid summer than all winter long. The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers seem to prefer suet, while the Red-bellied Woodpecker will spend more time feeding on peanuts and woodpecker nut mixes. Make suet and peanuts available for these birds. Nuthatches will eagerly feed on these products as well as the Carolina Wrens that seem to winter over more and more in the Eastern Plains states and Midwest.
Many people have reported a large number of Eastern Bluebirds wintering over. Evidently these birds have an adequate food source of berries to sustain them, but may drift off if those food sources dwindle. Some folks have provided them with suet nuggets and meal worms. And heated bird baths have provided them with fresh water. Others have reported some bluebirds using nest boxes as evening roosts during harsh weather. By months end we may see other bluebirds begin to arrive along with their cousin the American Robin.
At some locations folks have been over-whelmed with Goldfinch while for others the numbers are much less. Remember to use fresh Nyjer seed. Wild Bird Habitat’s finch mix, 50% Nyjer thistle and 50% ground sunflower chips, has proven to be a favorite, giving the finch both of their most sought after food at the feeder. Remember however that if squirrels are a problem, the ground sunflower chips will get their attention in a hurry, and you may end up with a destroyed thistle feeder. By months end and into early March the numbers of Goldfinch at the feeders will increase dramatically. Our adults who drifted south for the winter will be returning, and the northern finches that have been visiting us during the winter will remain here until early May.
Keep water available for your birds as open water will attract more birds than just feed alone. And as food resources diminish into late winter, the bird feeders will become even more popular with birds. Keep them stocked. After all, it will be mid to late summer before many of our bird’s natural food supplies have been replenished.
Have you been enjoying feeding the birds in your backyard? Next time you have a guest over, share that excitement with them. National Bird Feeding Month is a great time to get someone interested in feeding birds. Bird feeders make great birthday gifts, and are excellent Valentines Day presents for the one you love. Enjoy nature together. Have your kids and their friends count birds during the Great Backyard Bird Count. Take a bird walk at the Pioneers Park Nature Center, and see more than 15 live non-releasable birds of prey. Enjoy birding more and remember to feed the birds. It makes a world of difference.