This brutal cold weather we’ve been having makes most of us want to snuggle in a thick blanket with some hot chocolate and catch up on those Oscar winners from years past. But then we glance outside and see Cardinals, Titmice and Chickadees flying around, their feathers puffed up trying to retain some body heat. We wonder “How can we help them?” and “What kind of birdseed is best during the winter?” Well, the key is fat and the energy it provides to the birds.
Black oil sunflower seeds continue to be an excellent source of energy for just about all birds during the winter months. It has a higher fat content than striped sunflower and is easy to crack open. Since striped sunflower seeds have a thicker hull, birds need to work harder to receive their food. Adding some shelled sunflower seed provides an even easier meal for the birds.
Peanuts are another source of high fat food. They are loved by many birds including nuthatches, titmice, various woodpeckers, chickadees and bluejays. These nuts can be in several forms including in the shell, hulled, in pieces or in a butter form. You can actually just spread peanut butter (without partially hydrogenated oil) on the trunk of a tree, and watch the clinger birds such as nuthatches delight in this effortless meal.
Suet is also a favorite of the same birds that eat nuts in our region, and provides them with a high fat treat. Suet helps replace the insects that many birds devour in the warmer months. The main ingredient in suet is beef fat, and birds are perfectly happy eating plain suet. However, many suet cakes are mixed with different seeds, corn or flavorings to attract certain birds. For example, suet with corn will attract cardinals, juncos and doves. Suet with peanuts will further attract nut loving birds. Keep providing suet to the birds into the spring months and you might attract newly arrived warblers.
And don’t forget the birds will need some water to wash down all that food, so give them a source of water. You can add a small heater to an existing (not ceramic or glass) birdbath or get a integrated heated birdbath. They will provide the birds with ice-free water to drink and bathe in this cold miserable winter.