December 5, 2009 in Washington Voices

Feeders, heated water welcome winter birds

Pat Munts
 
Photo courtesy of Steve Munts photo

Two adult eagles pick on the remains of a deer less than 50 yards from Madison Road, just south of the Painted Hills Golf Course. Photo courtesy of Steve Munts
(Full-size photo)

‘Get your shoes and camera.”

This was our morning greeting as the kids barreled into the house over the Thanksgiving weekend.

“There are bald eagles in the field.”

Sure enough, less than 50 yards from Madison Road immediately south of the Painted Hills Golf Course were two adult eagles picking on the remains of a deer. We soon had a traffic jam of gawkers. It was a great way to start the winter bird-watching season.

While the eagles are on their own, feeding smaller wild birds is a great way to stay in touch with nature through the winter. By tracking the birds visiting your feeders you can tell which ones are year-round residents and which ones are migrating between their summer and winter homes or escaping harsh mountain conditions. Our eagles may have been part of the annual migration to Lake Coeur d’Alene.

To enjoy winter birds, hang feeders in your yard where you can see them from the house and it’s easy to fill them. The best feeders are cylindrical tubes with multiple perches hung a few feet off the ground, or covered trays set on posts. Putting feeders up off the ground keeps them out of reach of cats. Tube feeders allow several small birds to feed at a time while tray feeders can accommodate larger birds such as juncos, sparrows, towhees, quail and doves. Placing them close to dense evergreens gives the birds a place to quickly hide if predators show up.

Filling your feeders with the right seed will increase the types of birds coming to visit and hanging around because they like the offerings. Birds are looking for seed with the highest levels of fats and proteins so they can heat their bodies. They will sort the best seeds out of a mix and kick the rest out of the feeders. They have to – it takes energy to break a seed open, and they can’t waste that on something that isn’t going to give them something in return.

Black oil sunflower seeds attract the widest variety of birds in our area, including chickadees, finches, nuthatches, pine siskins, California quail, doves, jays and woodpeckers. Niger thistle (not related to our noxious weed thistle) attracts goldfinches, pine siskins, dark-eyed juncos, chickadees, purple finches and sparrows. Woodpeckers, flickers, chickadees and nuthatches are drawn to suet cakes and peanut butter hung in a wire basket or smeared into pine cones. If you don’t want the mess of empty shells, buy hulled seed.

Watch where the birds go after they visit your feeders and next year plant more sheltering shrubs and evergreens where they can hide from the weather and predators. A favorite of my birds is a big pine tree with low branches about 20 feet from the feeders.

To provide water for the birds to drink and bathe in, place a bird bath heater in a shallow tray near the feeder. The heater is set on a thermostat that keeps the water thawed.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.


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