Birds can use some help in winter

Once the wind began backing off, upwards of 200 robins were flying over the neighborhood. They were coping with the storm that made the week of Thanksgiving memorable. Group after group passed overhead almost nonstop. They had been feeding on the berries of the madrona trees that grow along the beach. The tree behind our house has been loaded with berries and the robins attacked it, too. Robins have been everywhere, and any tree with berries still on it will soon be stripped.

Winter still hasn’t made its official appearance, but if that early storm was an example of what is ahead, the birds will be facing some challenges in December and January. We can’t assume the entire responsibility for them, but sometimes that’s the way we feel. We can make their lives a little easier, but the weaker ones and the sick birds won’t survive.

Many people faithfully feed the birds in their yards. I’m sure this has a real effect on bird numbers. When the weather turns bad you can check any feeding station and see increased bird activity. Some birds that never come to the feeders will show up and use the bird baths. How the word gets out is a mystery, but it does.

Freezing temperatures make finding a source of water a challenge even in the Northwest. There are heaters you can place in the bird bath to keep it from freezing, but it isn’t easy for everyone to find a place to plug in these heaters. Some of us just keep the teakettle busy.

Hummingbirds have become a winter resident in many yards. This is a fairly recent occurrence. They have added another dimension to winter feeding. The syrup in their feeders must be kept from freezing, and that is a challenge. Most of us have accepted the task of taking the syrup feeders in at night and putting them out early the following morning. We also keep more than one feeder going throughout the day. When one starts freezing, another takes its place.

Last year, a reader came up with a way to slow the syrup’s freezing. She places a hand warmer heat pack around the feeder bottle, secures it with a knitted sleeve and holds everything in place with a rubber band at the top and bottom. I’m not good at knitting so a sock was sacrificed. Its toe was cut off. We leave the porch light over the feeder on all night and all day if temperatures are still in the freezing range.

When it comes to the other feeders, black sunflower seeds are the best because their oil content is higher, and that is good for body heat. Mixed seed should be scattered on the ground and in sheltered areas where snow doesn’t cover it. When it is scattered over a broader area more birds can feed and without contaminating the seed. Our carport and patio become a mess but they offer a good supply of exposed bird seed.

The lard/oatmeal mix is the most popular food in the feeders, so it pays to have a good supply mixed up. Commercial bird cakes made with suet, seeds and dried fruit are quick and easy when supply can’t keep up with demand but they usually end up being eaten last if you have been using the lard/oatmeal mix.

It may seem early to be concerned about winter feeding but November’s early storm was a reminder to be prepared. Once that is under control, holiday preparations can move ahead.

Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply, or e-mail joanpcarson@comcast.net)