Winter is a Great Time to Start Feeding Birds
Feb 23, 2021
Getting to know what birds are in your backyard will make spring migration even more exciting
Feeding birds in winter is a great time for the beginning bird feeder. It’s easier to learn which birds are in your backyard because there are fewer of them, and they are easier to spot when the leaves are off the trees. Because these birds did not fly south for the winter, they are the ones you will see year-round, which will make spotting the rare birds and migrants much easier to identify – and more thrilling – when they stop by in the spring!
There is a reason that February is designated National Bird Feeding Month. Small songbirds eat more food in the winter than in the summer, making putting out a bird feeder or two an entertaining and valuable resource this time of year. Studies have shown an increase in winter survival of birds who visit feeders, which also help boost birds’ breeding success.
Dwindling food supply makes the birds very eager to visit feeders, giving you a window into fascinating bird behaviors. In winter, small birds of different species adapt to the season by joining together in mixed flocks, which helps them ward off predators and locate food more quickly. Downy woodpeckers often travel with chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and house finches; The small birds sound an alarm of approaching danger and gather together in a “mob” to harass the predator, while the woodpeckers discover food sources where the other birds can forage with the added protection of the group.
When you put out a feeder in winter, watch as some birds fly quickly back and forth from the feeder to a nearby spot. They often hide their food, up to hundreds of seeds a day and each in a different location, that they will then remember and retrieve later for eating.
Seeing how birds adapt to severe temperatures is inspiring. How do they do it? They have several physical adaptations – dense plumage, shivering, and the ability to survive reduced body temperatures. They store fat to keep warm, and fluff their feathers to trap warm air against their bodies. As the temperature drops outside, birds also shiver to keep warm. But on some cold winter nights, chickadees will go into a state of regulated hypothermia – actually dropping their body temperatures by decreasing the shivering. Birds feet also are designed to endure winter, with a protective covering and special veins that keep them warm.
Feeding birds in winter not only benefits the birds themselves, but also those of us who feed them. When we give a boost to nature, we are rewarded with a front row view of a captivating and inspiring world. Our winter birds brighten the short, gray days with their presence.
Photos by Carla Mason and Wild Bird Centers