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Bird feeding is fun, and it helps

Finding food in the winter can be a tough prospect for Utah's wild birds.

A couple of feeders and the right type of feed are all you need to attract birds to your yard.

A couple of feeders and the right type of feed are all you need to attract birds to your yard.

Photo by Ron Stewart

During the late summer and fall, most birds leave Utah for areas that are warmer. Those that stay find a food supply that snow, long nights, below zero temperatures, storms and frost-forming inversion layers have severely reduced. Only birds capable of finding seeds, berries, dormant insects and other limited food sources can survive Utah's tough winters.

During the cold months of winter, birds need to eat regularly to maintain their body heat. And that's where you come in. Unlike deer — which artificial feeding can actually harm — feeding stations can play a pivotal role in helping wild birds survive.

Bird feeding can also bring a host of small, colorful, fascinating characters right into your backyard.

Sound like fun? It is. But once you get started, you have to stay committed to providing food to your birds every day.

You have to stay committed

Most birds develop feeding patterns, moving from food source to food source along a regular daily route. The birds that visit your yard will start to rely on your feeding stations, especially during winter storms, cold snaps and other critical times. If you don't feed the birds, the birds may not have time to find other sources to last them through the emergency.

If you start feeding birds, it's very important that you feed them every day through the winter and well into the spring.

Feeding stations

Feeding stations can be simple or complex.

Simply scattering food on the ground or hanging a bird feeder in a tree are examples of simple stations. Providing multiple feeders with different seeds, types of perches and different sized openings, and varying how high you place each feeder, is an example of a complex feeding station.

Different types of food attract different types of birds, so setting up a complex feeding station should increase the variety of birds you see.

Wild birds have the easiest time finding food when the food is placed in an area where the birds would naturally look for it. For example, a spotted towhee, which feeds on the ground, is more likely to find food if you leave the food on the ground. A goldfinch, on the other hand, will be looking for food higher up in a tree.

Four basic feeding locations will accommodate most of the birds that eat seeds: ground, tabletop, hanging and tree trunk.

Quail, juncos and most sparrows and towhees are ground-level feeders. Because they usually search for food in tree branches, chickadees, finches, grosbeaks, siskins and jays are quick to find food in tabletop and hanging feeders. Nuthatches, creepers and woodpeckers prefer tree trunk stations.

Types of food

Most winter birds will eat sunflower seeds. They especially like the little, black, oily type of sunflower seed, and the grey-striped ones.

White and red proso millet, canary seed and thistle or niger seeds are good for attracting smaller birds such as finches, sparrows, chickadees and siskins.

Suet and fruit will also attract birds. Suet, which is another name for fat, is a rich source of energy that some birds can use. Simply stuffing the suet into cracks in the bark of a tree can turn the tree into a good suet feeder.

Fortunately, birds are more interested in the food than the cost of your feeder or how the feeder looks. Feeders made at home or bought in a store can both work equally well. Just make sure your feeder keeps the seeds in it dry and has enough openings so the birds can reach the food.

Feeder placement

As you set up your feeding station, keep two things in mind — variety and safety.

Providing a variety of foods and feeders, placed at different heights, will attract a greater variety of birds.

Spread your feeders out to avoid concentrating a large number of birds in one area. And find or create areas where it's easy to clean up spilled seeds and other messes. This will help control the spread of disease and food poisoning from moldy or spoiled seeds.

In addition to a constant, reliable source of food, the birds you attract need something else — a safe, protected place to eat and rest.

A natural setting that birds normally use is a great place to put a feeder. These natural settings not only block the wind and the weather, they also offer escape cover from housecats and other predators.

A protected yard is also a good place to put a feeder. If you place a feeder in a protected yard, place the feeder in the open, away from any cover that cats might use to sneak up on feeding birds.

Also, remember to place your feeders where you can easily see them. A good place is near a window, a balcony or another place where you can see the birds without disturbing them. Placing a feeder close to a window will actually cut down on birds flying into the window because, after leaving the feeder, the birds won't have time to build up much speed.

Everyone wins

Bird feeding can supply hours of entertainment and enjoyment to people of all ages. It can also help supplement resources the birds need in an era when natural habitats are dwindling.

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