Keeping Backyard Birds Healthy And Happy 'A Feel-Good Thing To Do'

Birds are “amazing,” said Garden Club of Newtown President Holly Kocet. Recently she noticed, “The birds were so busy at the feeders.”

But as temperatures dropped to frigid single digits and lower this month, she wondered how they can survive the freeze.

Ms Kocet, who contributes to the garden club’s newsletter with informational pieces about wildlife, again put her thoughts down in an e-mail to The Bee.

“It is so important to help birds by providing food that will give them the energy they need to stay healthy and warm,” she wrote.

What do they need? “Fat, and water,” she said. “People may not think of what they need to survive, especially at the end of winter when berries and seeds diminish.”

“Statistically, [February and March] is when birds have the highest mortality. Food supplies are depleted and weather is still harsh,” she wrote.

Margaret Robbins of Wild Birds Unlimited in Brookfield, a backyard bird feeding store where Ms Kocet is a customer, said people may not want to start feeding birds, thinking they will have to continue feeding them or the birds will die, which is not the case. Ms Robbins, who has worked for National Audubon society and has always loved birds, said, “Backyard feeding becomes critical when it’s frigid or there is snow cover and they can’t get at food. At times like that their chances of survival are better with feeders.”

The energy to stay warm can cost a bird as much as ten percent of its bodyweight in a day, she said.

“And if they don’t replenish, they could die the next night — that’s when fresh food is critical,” she said.

Suet, nuts, sunflower, safflower seeds are “fantastic items to offer,” Ms Robbins said. Ms Kocet also named several sources, including suet cakes, suet pellets, safflower seeds, black oil sunflower seeds and nuts, as “most valuable.”

“The only other thing that is more important in winter than spring and summer is water,” said Ms Robbins. “Birds have no sources in the winter, and to melt it under a wing or a beak expends so much needed energy, so putting out water every day, the birds will be used to it being there. I get double the birds at my birdbath in winter than in summer.”

Ms Kocet also mentioned roosting boxes.

“Birds huddle inside these boxes for warmth,” she stated. Unlike birdhouses, roosting boxes have an entrance at the bottom to prevent warmer air from escaping.

“But do leave out your birdhouses,” she stated. “Caulking the vents at the top can serve the same purpose and you can remove the calk when the weather warms up in spring.”

Ms Robbins also touched upon roosting boxes, which cavity nesters like chickadees, woodpeckers, etc will use. The boxes have interior perches and the entrance is bottom because heat rises, she said. Or “winterize your birdhouses,” she said. Birdhouses are normally ventilated to keep a brood cool in the summer.

“You can seal it up for the winter,” said Ms Robbins, who likes to put out hair, or cat, dog, or alpaca fur, which birds will gather for warmth. “They pull at it and fly off with it, it’s cute to see,” she said.

She advises against tossing out dryer lint “because it contains chemicals and retains water,” she said.

Feeding the birds and encouraging birds in the backyard is “a feel-good hobby, an all-around wonderful thing to do, and people of all ages can get involved,” Ms Robbins said. “Where else can you make so little effort for so much pleasure and share with the whole family? And it’s calming, terrific.”

The staff at Wild Birds Unlimited are all bird feeding specialists. Ms Robbins and her son Phil, a biologist, are often available. Contact them at wbu.Danbury@gmail.com.

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