Earth Notes - Winter Bird Feeding

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Winter Bird Feeding

Americans have a demonstrated enthusiasm for feeding birds. It's estimated that more than 50 million people feed wild birds in the United States each year. But little research has been done to determine what sorts of food are best for those birds.

According to ecologist David Horn of Milliken University, "wild bird feeding is one of our most understudied wildlife management issues." To learn more, Horn founded the National Bird-Feeding Society. He's recruited thousands of volunteers, from all over North America, who contribute observations from their backyard feeders.

Birds need the same sorts of nutrients we do: fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and trace minerals. But in winter they need to fuel a metabolism that runs far higher than ours does. Fortunately, wintering birds often have a wide variety of foods to choose from, from wildflower and tree seeds to insect eggs and feeder buffets.

Probably the best all-around food you can offer birds is black-oil sunflower seeds, which are fatty, nutritious, and easily opened versions of the sunflower seeds sold for human consumption. If you like colorful goldfinches and pine siskins, they're most readily attracted by offerings of nyjer thistle seed, which are tiny and should be provided in their own, separate feeder.

Many seed mixes are far less appealing, because they can be full of inedible seeds that birds don't like.

Most important, clean feeders regularly, and make sure the seeds you offer are fresh. No one likes stale foods, not even the hungry birds of winter.

-David Lukas

Learn more from the National Bird-Feeding Society.