By Fran Stoddard © 1985
Issue: March, 1985
Q: Since there are less insects and other natural foods in colder months, what do some of our resident birds eat in Winter and early Spring? Also, what food can I put in the birdfeeder to attract certain kinds of birds.
A: It is true that food is scarcer for our feathered friends during winter, but particularly late winter and early spring. Up to then, there are still wild poke berries, grapes, honeysuckle, berries and lots of seeds.
There are so many birds in the Blue Ridge Mountain area that I can't begin to discuss them all at this time. Following are a few of the most common ones you are likely to see at your feeder. These will be all year-round residents. We also have many winter visitors from the North.
The Carolina Wren
This is one of my favorites. It is very friendly. Its warm weather diet was soft, juicy caterpillars. During the winter they seek the berries of poke and honeysuckle, ants and hibernating spiders. To attract them you can hang some suet. They like that, or like I did this morning, take some bacon-drippings mixed with cornmeal, peanut butter and bread crumbs. Squeeze the mixture into a little mesh bag (like a net that onions come in). There were many birds enjoying their meal this morning, even in the cold rain.
The Carolina Wren will reward you with a loud, lively, beautiful song. I call it the "Willie Nelson" bird because it isn't very pretty but it can sure sing.
The Tufted Titmouse
This little gray and white bird with a crested head feeds on insects and their eggs which they find among the leaves and twigs of oaks and hickories. In winter their diet is still among the trees as they feed on small acorns, meaty seeds, and some of the soft fruits still in the woods like wild grapes. At the bird feeder they are attracted to sunflower seeds, the black ones are preferred over the white striped sunflower seeds because they contain more fat. Their song is loud and sounds like: PETER-PETER-PETER.
Some people don't like the Blue Jay because he is quite greedy and a bully. But, they are so beautiful. I love to see them, even though they don't stay long at the feeder. During summer a Blue Jay will eat some bird eggs and smaller bird's young, but most of their diet is insects and they are beneficial in controlling the harmful insect population. Salamanders, snails, mice, frogs, etc. are also on their menu, along with nuts. At the feeder they like sunflower seeds. There was one after the mixture I set outside this morning. (See Carolina Wren) Blue Jays can make a loud commotion. They sound like: Thief- Thief-Thief.
This bird has a lot going for it. It has a brilliant red color, a song as beautiful, if not more so, than the finest human musical composition, and it is the State Bird of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and a few mid-western states. This bird captures large insects during warm months, but switches to seeds when the insects are gone. At the feeder, the regular mixture of wild bird seeds as sold at grocery, hardware, etc. stores will satisfy them. They prefer to eat off the ground rather than on the feeder.
There are several sparrows in our area. They resemble one another so get a good field guide of birds in the Eastern U.S. and try to identify the ones that visit you.
Sparrows like the small seeds of weeds. They will eat insects in summer. Seeds of the wild bird food variety sold in stores, put in the feeder and around on the ground will attract them.
There are many more like the Nuthatches, Mockingbird, Warblers, Starling, Bluebird, Goldfinch, Towhee, Junco, Robin, Finches, Grosbeaks, Phoebe, etc. Basically a high fat-protein diet seems to be what birds need in cold weather. They get this from wild seeds and nuts they find, and the suet, seeds and mixtures of fat, peanut butter, and scraps you set out in your feeder.
I've been a bird watcher for many years. I enjoy putting out food to attract many different kinds. I've befriended wild birds as well as wild animals to come and eat from my hands. However, it has been my experience, and a sad experience at that, that it is wrong to do this.
Birds are bolder and friendlier in winter. Some can be enticed to lose their fear of man and come to their benefactor's hands to feed. This is a wonderful feeling to be friend with creatures of the wild. However, the fear of man is a protection that the Creator gave them. If we take away that protection they become marks for kids with guns and adults who enjoy target practicing on living things.
So it is helpful to feed them. Have your feeding station near a window so you can watch them and perhaps sketch or photograph them. But, let them stay wild and free, and alive.