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Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather
Flights of Fancy

Getting Your Back Yard Birds Through Wintertime

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Many factors combine to make the winter months tough ones for our feathered friends. Food can be hard to find, as there is less of it, and what there is may be covered by snow and ice. The bushes and plants are mostly dormant, and for those birds that normally feed on insects, these too are often hibernating or dormant, and certainly not available to eat. All this combines to make it hard for the birds to find food. Compound this with the fact that as warm-blooded creatures they need more energy to simply stay warm in the wintertime, and you can easily see that this can be a time of stress.

Bird on a Winter Feeder by JB-Photography203
A great source of high calorie, or high energy food is suet. Suet is raw beef fat, typically taken from the animal's kidneys and loins. Because of its high fat content it is very high in energy. It is often combined with some other high energy foods like nuts to make it very attractive to a wide range of birds, such as nuthatches, woodpeckers, wrens, cardinals, bluebirds. On the flip side, it can also attract squirrels and some pest birds as well, such as starlings. One thing many people use is a caged feeder to discourage the squirrels from poaching the suet. Another thing to try with starlings is a suet feeder that only has a cage opening on the bottom, as they will not usually feed that way but many other birds will.

Suet usually goes through a process called rendering, which gives it the lard like appearance and an almost waxy like texture. It is usually shaped like a small block, similar in size and shape to a simple sandwich. It can be mounted in a feeder that simply hangs on a tree, in cages that can be hung from tree branches, or there are some hopper type feeders that hold bird seed in the hopper, and have suet cages on the side, which can serve to feed several types of birds at one time.

Another popular approach is to use suet ball, which often have a string so they can simply be hung from tree branches. To keep pests away, one favorite trick is to flavor the suet with pepper. The pepper will discourage mammals like squirrel, but the birds are unaffected by the pepper.

The winter months also make it tough to keep water available to your outdoor wildlife. The cooler temperatures work quickly on devices like bird feeders since they are designed to be shallow, which means they will freeze up fairly fast. One way to deal with this is to buy a heated bird bath. But if you already have a favorite bird bath, another simple solution is to use a bird bath heater. This are simple coils, usually powered off the household current, and will have a thermostat built in so they will keep the water at a reasonable temperature will thawing it nicely for the birds to use.

Just a few simple ideas like this will help keep your local bird population healthy and ready to sing when the spring thaw eventually comes.

About the Author
Written by J. Ruppel
To learn more about suet bird feeders and to see the various types of bird bath heaters, go to

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