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This time of year, I watch the birds. I also feed them. Most of the birds that winter in Virginia are seed eaters. Some seeds are better than others, however. Seeds and nuts with a higher fat content are best for winter feeding—black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts, for example.
Birdseed mixes that you can buy are readily available but read the ingredient label and try to avoid too many fillers like red millet, milo, and wheat. According to the Audubon Society, the best mixes should contain black oil sunflower seeds, white millet, cracked corn and/or peanut bits. And don’t forget black thistle seed (Niger) to attract goldfinches.
Suet, rendered beef fat, is a great energy source. You can buy prepared suet cakes or make your own and add birdseed, chopped peanuts, etc. Ask the meat department at your local grocery store if they have leftover beef fat trimmings you can “melt” down. Here is a suet cake recipe from the Audubon Society:
Melt shortening and peanut butter together and pour over dry ingredients. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze. This is best for winter feeding—do not use when temps are over 50, however, as the fat can go rancid.
Birds enjoy the moisture content and vitamins they find in various fruits so place aluminum pans filled with chopped fruit—even chopped raisins that have been soaked in water first. Fruit will attract a wider variety of birds. If buying conventionally grown fruit, wash it carefully or buy organic to minimize pesticide residues.
You can smear peanut butter on a tree trunk and press peanut bits or cracked corn into it. I have done that. The woodpeckers loved it.
If you’re thinking long term bird-feeding, there are trees and shrubs like winterberry holly, hawthorns, American Beautyberry, Inkberry, Wax Myrtles, Sweet Bay Magnolia or viburnums which have winter fruit/berries.
A ready water source—a heated birdbath or pond with running water—is very important over winter. Birds need water in winter as much as in summer, but it can be harder to find. Not only are we not watering our lawns or gardens, but most available water is frozen during cold spells.
Is there anything you’ve put out for your birds and had them go nuts for? Let me know in the comments below.