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Looking for a way to brighten your winter days? Then look no farther than through your kitchen window. Set up a bird feeder or two and discover the delight others have found in backyard bird watching.

Now is a great time to establish a feeding station, as the natural food supply for winter birds begins to dwindle.

And, this year promises to be a birder’s delight, according to Jim McCormac, a bird expert and botanist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Areas & Preserves.

“A really exciting element for bird watchers in Ohio is the appearance of several northern finch species,” said McCormac. “These periodic invasions occur every several years when finches dwelling in Canada’s forests are pushed south as a result of sparse food crops in the north.”

This Canadian finch invasion – also known as a cyclical irruption – is a real treat for avian enthusiasts who should be on the lookout for evening grosbeaks, pine siskins, red and white-winged crossbills, and common redpolls. Thistle-filled tube feeders specifically designed for finches are a good way to attract these highly regarded winter visitors.

If you’re already feeding the birds or just contemplating the possibility, here are some tips:
  • Have a feeder that protects the seed from rain and snow.
  • Feeders should be easy to fill, large enough to avoid continuous refilling, and easy to assemble and clean.
  • Squirrels are tremendous leapers, so place the feeder at least 15-20 feet away from the house and trees.
  • Sunflowers are favorites among cardinals, blue jays and other large birds.
  • White millet is an excellent choice for ground feeders such as juncos, white throated sparrows, doves and others.
  • To discourage grackles and starlings, use safflower seeds instead of black sunflower seeds.
  • Consider providing suet. It’s especially good for attracting nuthatches and woodpeckers.
Another plus to yard feeders is the possibility of attracting birds that are uncommon or even rare in Ohio. In 1997, a Tiffin yard feeder was visited by a male painted bunting, considered to be one of the most beautiful birds in North America. This small, tropical- looking bird displays red, blue and green plumage and is native to the southeastern United States.

Across Ohio, birding enthusiasts can regularly expect to see a wide variety of birds at their feeders, including black-capped or Carolina chickadees, nuthatches and a classic snow bird, the dark-eyed junco.

Which species visit your feeder can depend upon the kind of habitat your yard offers, according to Tom Sheley, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, a local bird seed and accessories company in Columbus.

“Neighborhoods with large trees, for example, will draw a mix of woodland and field species, such as American goldfinch, downy woodpecker, tufted titmouse and chickadees,” said Sheley.

Homeowners living in new subdivisions built on converted farmland are more likely to see field birds, he said, which include mourning doves, several species of sparrows and blue jays.

Filling your feeder with a good full-range seed blend will appeal to a majority of these field and woodland species.

If you’re looking to attract Ohio’s state bird, the cardinal, make sure you have black oil sunflower seeds in the mix. This oily seed – favored by many other birds too – is a wonderful high-energy food source rich in fat and calories.

So, how often should you feed the birds? Sheley said birds will eat as much as you put in the feeder, but emphasized having food available first thing in the morning and before sunset. That way, you’re giving your feathered friends a much-needed energy boost in the morning and a final helping to sustain them through the night.

Research has shown that 15 to 20 percent of a bird’s daily intake comes from yard feeders and the rest is from natural food sources. For that reason, Sheley stressed the importance of feeding whenever there is a heavy snow or ice storm.

He said it’s difficult for birds to get their own food when the weather is so severe. By providing seed at those critical times, people with yard feeders can help keep the winter kill numbers down.”

During the winter months, water is as important – if not more so – than food. A heated birdbath provides life-giving water, particularly during very cold or dry winters when natural water sources have either frozen or dried up. A good, economical heated birdbath can be purchased for under $50, said Sheley, or you can install a heating element in an existing birdbath.

So, why not begin feeding the birds and let the red of a cardinal, the blue of a jay and yellow of the goldfinch brighten your winter landscape.

Uploaded: 2/21/2004