Cold and hungry when winter arrives? So are the birds who call your neighborhood home this time of year. You’ll likely find these species of birds visiting your backyard during the cold-weather season, so make them feel welcome with some Southern hospitality of food and drink.
Who’s out there?
Northern cardinal: A year-round resident; if you see the bright red male, the rust-colored female usually isn’t far off.
Mourning dove: Plump, gray ground feeders often gather in groups to munch on scattered seeds.
Eastern bluebirds: Bright blue feathers with a reddish breast; they move South when it gets colder up north.
Brown thrasher: Georgia’s state bird is a lively, bright-eyed ground feeder with a multi-toned song.
House finch: Gray bird with pinkish breast is a frequent sight at feeders.
American goldfinch: Winter birds don’t sport bright yellow coloring until spring.
American robin: Year-round residents often flock in large numbers seeking berries.
Northern mockingbird: Energetic gray pepper pots will sometimes hassle other birds at the feeder.
Blue jay: That screeching sound from the trees is this year-round resident.
Carolina wren: Big voice in a little brown bird that stays around all year.
White-throated sparrow: Multicolored ground feeder; look for the yellow stripe over the eye.
Carolina chickadee: Little gray, black and white chirpers will visit feeders when the big birds move on.
Dark-eyed junco: Squat, dark-colored birds often travel in large groups and gather under feeders.
Woodpeckers: Downy and red-bellied varieties are common all year.
White-breasted nuthatch: Little gray-and-white birds will crawl up and down bark of a tree on the way to feeders.
Winter birding tips
Provide high-energy foods such as suet, peanut butter and black oil sunflower seed. These foods are all high in fat and are packed with calories to help birds keep warm.
Provide a birdbath or some source of clean water, which can be hard to find in winter.
Leave nest boxes out or consider buying or building a roost box to provide shelter and protection from predators.
Native plants provide many benefits to birds in the form of food, shelter and nesting habitat.
Sources: Times research; Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, allaboutbirds.org.
The birds at our house thrive on a gourmet diet — pretty much year-round.
There’s a meal worm feeder for bluebirds, nut feeder for woodpeckers, thistle feeder for finches, safflower feeder for cardinals and black oil sunflower seed feeder for everyone.
Overripe blueberries, chopped apples, orange wedges and banana slices are placed in a fly-through feeder, and nut- and fruit-enhanced suet goes out when the temperatures drop into the 30s. All feeders are caged or baffled to prevent rude raiders like squirrels and raccoons.
This time of year, the birds depend on the feeders because most natural seeds, berries and insects are gone.
Mealworms, which used to be icky to handle and keep because they were alive, now come in easy-use, freeze-dried form. Mix mealworms in with seed to provide extra protein. Mealworms are available at wildlife and garden specialty centers, as well as Lowe’s stores.
"With a little preparation and the right blend of food, water and shelter, you can fill your backyard with the bright colors and welcome song of birds all season — and give your feathered friends the help they need to thrive throughout the year," says Elaine Cole, owner of Cole’s wild bird products, sold nationwide at www.coleswildbird.com.
For extras during winter, create decorative edibles for the birds. Large pine cones can be smothered in peanut butter, rolled in birdseed and then hung via twine on evergreens at the edge of your deck or yard. Suet mixed with raisins and seed can be stuffed into pine cones and hung. You can see a tutorial of this on the new mobile app TutoriALL, available free for download at app stores.
Stale bread and bagel halves can be done the same way. Toast the bread, smear on peanut butter, spoon on birdseed and add a ribbon, yarn or twine hanger.
Cookie cutters can be used to make special shapes such as hearts, stars and such.
Or, smear an empty toilet paper roll with peanut butter, roll it in birdseed and slip it onto a tree branch for birds to enjoy.
"You really keep it simple when you use toppings of wild bird seed on medium-sized scoops of chunky peanut butter and place them outdoors on tree trunks and branches," Cole said.
Suet bags for birds can be made from pieces of suet from the butcher; slip them into a red mesh onion bag, or place a suet cake in the bag and hang with red ribbon. A cardboard egg carton can be transformed into a feeder, according to the National Wildlife Federations (nwf.org/Kids/Family-Fun/crafts/homemade-suet-feeder.aspx).
"This suet feeder is fun for kids to make," federation spokeswoman Mary Burnett said.
"If you didn’t want to go with an egg carton, you can probably just make a big ball of the suet, tie a string around it and hang in your backyard.
"I’ve also seen homemade suet feeders where they stuff the suet into a half of a hollowed-out orange or grapefruit skin. Put a hole in it and hang with string in your backyard. Stand back and watch the birds come!"
Kathy Van Mullekom is gardening and home columnist for the Daily Press, Newport News, Va.; e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her at roomandyard.com/diggin, Facebook.com/kathyvanmullekom, Pinterest.com/digginin and Twitter.com/diggindirt.