Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Bird Feeding

From Lisa Alba, Advanced Inquiry Program graduate student and Community Engagement intern:

Winter is almost here and the native birds in your backyard habitat are looking for new food sources. Using feeders is one way to attract the birds in your area, and allows for great birding in your own backyard.  Here in western Washington we have many birds that reside year round, including northern flickers, black-capped chickadee, dark eyed junco and Anna's hummingbird. Some species are spotted with more frequency in winter, these include spotted towhee and the varied thrush.

It is good to keep in mind that if you are providing food for birds, you may attract unintended critters as well.  When birds concentrate at feeders they can become easy targets for raptors and domestic cats.  Raptors such as sharp shinned hawks are few and far between but are fascinating to watch.  Their appearance is an indication of a well-balanced backyard habitat.  If you want to reduce the likelihood of predation by raptors, place your feeders in areas where an overhead predator cannot easily see the feeding station, such as under an overhang or near a stand of trees.  

Domestic cats should be kept indoors to avoid bird predation and injury to the cat.  Your pet cat can decimate your backyard bird population quickly, and may be a source of stress for the backyard wildlife you have attracted.  Well-fed domestic cats in the United States kill an average of 1 billion birds every year.  That number doesn’t account for the loss in other vertebrates such as frogs, mice, snakes, and other small desirable backyard inhabitants.  Free roaming cats are also injured by wildlife, and have been taken by the occasional coyote or fox.  Keeping your pet cats indoors is an easy way to avoid the predation.

Keeping your feeders clean and full will provide winter food sources for native birds and many hours of enjoyment for your family.  Remember to provide clean, unfrozen water during the winter as well.  During long periods of freezing temperatures, natural water sources become unusable for wildlife.  Providing clean, unfrozen water is very important for the survival of your backyard fauna.

Here are some suggested sites for more information on feeders and native bird feeding.