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Safe Feeding Options For Wild Birds

For both migratory birds and year-round residents, bird feeding in the fall and winter months is good for them—and for you. For migratory birds, your yard makes an ideal rest stop during their travels down south. For birds that overwinter in your home territory, bird feeders help supplement scarce food resources and provide supplemental energy to keep them warm during frigid temperatures. And with leaves falling from the trees, it's a great time for you enjoy the sight of colorful birds flocking to your feeders. Here are a few tips to remember for feeding in the cold seasons.

Safe location

Protective cover becomes even more precious as fall turns to winter. As plants defoliate, it's easier for you to spot the birds, but it's also easier for predators such as hawks and cats to see them.

Most birds prefer to feed near cover, so make sure you locate your bird feeders near bushes, trees or other plants that will give them a place to hide should they sense danger. In the wintertime, this means placing feeders near evergreen trees or shrubs.

You'll want to ensure your feeders remain at least 15 feet from bushes, trees or other cover, however. This is close enough to give birds an escape route if attacked from overhead by a predator bird, but it's enough distance to keep squirrels from jumping from branches onto the feeder and prevent cats from hiding in the bushes and pouncing on birds at the feeders.

The common household cat may be the most serious predator of songbirds. Cats kill millions of birds every year. Despite common belief, merely placing a bell on a cat's collar won't prevent it from killing birds. Wildlife experts recommend that you keep cats inside, or at least keep them inside in the mornings, when birds do most of their feeding. Don't feed stray cats and discourage them from lingering on your property.

Window with a view

Window collisions also cause millions of bird deaths each year. Birds can see the outdoors reflected in windows and fly into them when startled, thinking they have a clear route of escape. Male birds also may see themselves reflected in the window and attack, thinking they see a rival bird.

To help prevent this, you'll want to locate feeders either very close or far away from windows, especially large picture windows. Wildlife experts say moving bird feeders to within three feet of a window greatly reduces the number of fatal collisions associated with bird-feeding activities because startled birds won't have enough time to gather significant speed before a collision. Birds that take off as little as six feet from a window can reach top speed over that distance, and it can be potentially fatal when they hit.

Window feeders that attach directly to your windows can be an ideal option for wintertime feeding. Window feeders are one of the best type for preventing window collisions, say wildlife specialists, and your house's structure serves as additional cover.

Window feeders usually are small plastic boxes or platforms that attach with suction cups directly to the window or hook to the window sill, providing wonderful close-up views. Because birds stand directly in the seed while feeding, these types of feeders need to be cleaned and refilled daily, but their convenient location makes the chore easy.

Otherwise, place feeders far away from any windows or, if no other option is available, consider using decals to help birds see them better; wildlife experts recommend using more than one decal on large windows.

Cold-weather meals

During the winter months, food becomes scarcer. On top of that, birds need more calories during cold temperatures. Make sure you are putting out feed that provides plenty of energy—choose fat- and protein-rich foods. Birds that stick around in chillier regions of the country prefer seeds as their primary winter food source. Good choices are sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, white millet, seeded suet or nyjer, a tiny black oilseed high in protein.

It's especially important in the winter to maintain a regular feeding schedule. If you will be away for a long time, enlist a neighbor to help keep feeders filled. If you decide to stop feeding birds in the spring, be sure to keep putting out food until the weather warms up to the point where natural food supplies become plentiful again.

Don't forget about water. Birds need clean water to drink, even more so when ponds and other water sources freeze solid. Make it a point to go out and break up the ice in your birdbath or consider purchasing a heated birdbath or de-icer. As with feeders, make sure birdbaths are close enough to cover to provide protection and a place to perch and preen, but not so close that bathing birds become vulnerable to cat attack.

Do you have any tips for feeding birds in the colder months of the year? Share them in the comment section below!

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