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If you haven’t started feeding the birds this weekend is a good time to start.  Cold weather increases a bird’s caloric requirements at a time when food is most scarce. There are no insects flying around. Natural seeds, weeds, fruits, and nuts are close to all being used up by now and there always is the threat of snow cover to hide any remaining seeds.

There are some birds that winter over who prepare for the food-scarce months of winter by collecting food in the summer and fall months and hiding it away for later use in winter, a process called caching. Birds return to this stash when natural food sources run scarce. The problem is that sometimes other birds or animals find the food, too.

Chickadees, nuthatches, some woodpeckers, jays, and crows store, or “cache,” food.  Many other feeder birds such as doves, sparrows, blackbirds, finches, wrens and juncos do not store food at all. Those that do store food may hide hundreds, or even thousands, of seeds every year. Many species not only remember their hiding places, but what kind of tidbit they hid in each particular place.

Some birds eat dormant insects they find in the crevices of tree bark. Some birds will also eat the berries of winter-hardy species, such as bayberry, holly, mulberry and juniper.

Other birds flock together to find a reliable feeder. The ironic part is that though they work together to find these food sources, they are often very competitive with each other once they find it. To cut down on the competition at the feeder be sure to give the birds what they like such as sunflower hearts, safflower, and nuts. Don’t buy any bargain brand bird feed. By supplying quality seed there is less competition between the birds while they select the seeds they like. Also, remember that if you start feeding birds for the winter, they count on you to keep them stocked all winter long.

When setting out feed for the birds don’t forget the suet. Suet is animal fat. It is the most concentrated source of energy you can offer wild birds.

Suet is one of the top three foods to feed wild birds. Birds have high metabolic rates. It is not unusual for birds to consume 1/4 to 1/3 their body weight worth of food a day! Offering suet, mixed with the highest quality grains, nuts, fruits, and flavored pellets provides a high caloric energy source.

Suet is traditionally fed in vinyl-coated wire cages. They are inexpensive and durable.  The cages, or baskets, hold from one to several suet cakes. The cages may be hung from branches, tree trunks, or hooks.

Common birds that eat suet are downy, hairy, red-bellied, and pileated woodpeckers. Chickadees, northern flickers, nuthatches, wrens, warblers, blue jays, pine siskins, titmice, and the ever popular bluebird.

Suet is available in many different flavors. Fruit n’ nut treat, High Energy, Berry, Orange and Peanut just to name a few.

Visit your local feed store this weekend and check out their selection of suet and suet feeders

Wintering birds have done quite well in order to survive the coldest months. The more we chip in and help, the better their chances of survival will be.


Garden Tip: Winter is a good time to start feeding the birds because most trees are bare of foliage making the birds very visible. You are also more apt to see birds in flocks in the winter time.  Seeds that don’t leave a mess under the feeder are shelled nuts, safflower, sunflower hearts and cracked corn.  All loved by overwintering birds in our area.

Dave Vargo is the owner of Arnold Feed & Garden Ctr (724-335-1821) and Kiski Plaza Garden Ctr. (724-845-8201) Visit their web site at www.kiskigardencenter.com Email questions to dvargokiski@comcast.net all products mentioned in this article are available at either garden center.