Ontario winters can be hard on everyone, especially our bird friends. Days have become shorter, leaving the birds with longer cold nights. Most natural food sources have been consumed during the summer and fall, and the food that is left is often buried in snow. Insects have either died or have gone dormant for the winter, and water sources have frozen over. Winter storms can come suddenly, sometimes leaving birds with no shelter. By offering high quality food and roosting pockets, you can help birds thrive during our winters.
How birds use food to survive
Birds are warm-blooded and keep their body temperature within a certain range. A bird’s basal metabolic rate -the rate which they use energy to keep vitals going such as body warmth- is very high. The smaller the bird, the more energy they must use to keep warm. In order to survive long, cold winters, birds use energy at much higher rates to keep their body temperature up. While some birds can slow their metabolic rate to account for colder weather, they still need an abundant, rich food source with a high content of fat to keep up their basal metabolic rate.
Best foods to provide birds in the Winter
Since birds are using more energy to keep warm during the winter, it is best to feed them good-quality seed with high contents of fat. Keep in mind that birds can arrive to your feeders in large flocks, as songbirds usually keep together for more warmth, so it is best to keep your feeders as full as possible. Another benefit to keeping your feeder fully stocked is that if birds are caught off-guard by a winter storm and are not close to a warm shelter, they will feed throughout the night to keep their energy up. Birds who normally feed off fruits and insects rather than seed, such as woodpeckers and dark-eyed juncos, will be coming to your feeder this winter so it is best to keep out a variety of feed for all birds. The best options to keep up with birds’ high fat needs are the following:
- Black Oilseed: Sunflower seeds naturally have a high fat and protein content. Because of its relatively thin shell, oilseed can be consumed by most birds with very little effort. It also has the added benefit of large hulls within, giving birds a high reward for very little energy output. This type of sunflower has twice the calories per pound as regular striped sunflower. Finches, nuthatches, blue jays and cardinals will flock to your feeders when stocked with oilseed.
- Peanuts: This is another great seed to offer your birds in the winter, due to its inherent high fat and protein content. By providing peanut halves in a feeder, you will make the woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, and finches very happy! Blue Jays love whole peanuts and, should you provide them, will adorn your feeders with their bright blue presence all winter.
- Suet: Good-quality suet will be dense with fat and high in calories for your backyard birds. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, finches and more will be a constant sight in backyards who offer good quality suet. A good-quality suet would be made with beef kidney suet and contain very little filler- our line of suet meets the needs of your backyard birds.
- White Millet: there are certain birds like Dark-eyed Juncos who are solely ground feeders. Even woodpeckers will search on the ground for food sources. White millet is a small seed with a hard shell and is a great seed to offer to ground feeding birds. The shell means it will last in the wet snow, but it is soft enough for small birds to crack open.
Locations for feeders
The location of your feeders is always important, but especially during winter months. Placing feeders near plants like evergreens or thick shrubs allows them to have quick cover from birds of prey. Evergreens also provides birds with a shelter if a winter storm moves in quickly and can help keep them warm. If you do not have any natural shelters you can provide birds with roosting boxes or pockets. Roosting houses and pockets are different from a regular bird house. Roosting houses are generally larger with a dowel placed inside, so that many birds can perch within to share body warmth. Roosting pockets are much smaller and usually made out of natural material for insulation. Usually one or two small birds can fit in a pocket, with the smaller area the birds can cozy up into the natural material to keep warm. Try to keep feeders and roosting pockets out of windy locations.
There are two main ways that bird will create heat to survive our winter. A short term way to keep warm is by shivering. Shivering converts muscle energy into a heat source and is a great short way that birds use to keep warm. They usually do this when temperatures drop suddenly to adjust.Due to the high amount of energy required to do this, bird only use this as a short-term solution. This is why birds feed like crazy from your feeders when temperatures drop suddenly, they require more food. Have you every seen a fat little chickadee or cardinal feeding from your feeder? Well, these fat birds are actually using their long-term method of keeping warm, they fluff up their feathers! When they fluff up their feathers they create little air pockets, the more air spaces the bird can create the warmer they will be. This is where an active water source comes in handy for birds. By using a bird bath heater to keep water from freezing, birds can clean their feathers.The less oil and dirt they have the fluffier they can make themselves. They will also appreciate the water as a drinking source, while birds can eat snow it requires a lot of effort to do so, effort that could be used to kept warm.
By providing birds with these necessities they will thank-you by covering your feeders year round!