Colorado experienced below-freezing temperatures this past week. While we hunker down in our homes, our feathered friends are faced with a challenging task – finding enough food to keep them energized and warm. Many bird enthusiasts put out feeders in their backyards, in hopes of attracting a few wild species. However, not all feeding stations are created equal. So, let’s dive into the world of backyard bird feeding to help our avian pals thrive during the frosty months of winter.
There are a variety of birds that stay in our state through the colder months. Some prefer seeds, and others prefer berries or insects. To attract multiple species, you want to select tubular feeders, hanging trays, and suet baskets. Take care to purchase rich diets with healthy fats and high-calorie ingredients. Black-oil sunflower seeds, de-shelled peanuts, and sliced citrus are all great options.
Ideally, offer a warmed water feature for drinking and bathing. Choose an immersible heater designed for outdoor bird bath use. If it is not below freezing you can use a solar water bubbler which at least keeps the water moving, and moving water usually doesn’t freeze.
CLEAN FEEDERS AND WATER
Minimizing disease spread is of utmost importance when considering putting out backyard feeders. Soggy seed, dirty feeders, and unkempt grounds can breed harmful conditions for the birds you are trying to help through winter. Bird bath water should be changed daily. All feeders need to be cleaned at least twice a week.
Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center sees a handful of patients each year impacted by conjunctivitis, a parasitic bacterium that leaves birds with crusty, swollen eyes. In serious cases, they can become blind and vulnerable to starvation and predation. Keeping gathering spaces clean is the first step in prevention.
Thoroughly wash and scrub your feeders bi-weekly with a bleach solution (nine parts water, one part bleach). Ensure the feeder is completely dry before adding seed again. Clean the area underneath your feeding station by sweeping away old shell casings, or buying seed with no shells at all.
Another thing to consider when setting up your backyard oasis is how close your feeders are to windows. In 2023, Greenwood Wildlife took in numerous patients who had struck windows, leaving them with head injuries or subcutaneous emphysema (air under the skin). Strikes can even lead to death. Some people try to use colorful curtains or scarves to indicate there is a glass window, but the key is to try to break up the reflection.
Greenwood recently took in a juvenile Downy Woodpecker that had supposedly struck a window. The impact left the bird dazed on a back porch. Luckily, rescuers were able to bring the woodpecker to our facility, where it made a full recovery from its head injury and was released a few weeks later.
To prevent injuries to birds such as this one, place your feeders within three feet of windows. While it may seem counterintuitive, this gives birds less time to build momentum, ergo, less serious injury. The most effective way to prevent window strikes is to break up the reflection of the outdoors by placing UV decals on your windows, at least one hand width apart from each other. This will help the birds see that the reflection is not an easy flyway, and they will be less likely to take off in that direction.
Bird feeders can be a fun way to help wildlife through the winter, but we must be responsible to prevent needless injury and illness. Protect your backyard visitors this winter and enjoy the variety of wildlife Colorado has to offer!
……………Mysti Tatro, Community Relations Manager at Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Heated Bird Bath (Lyons)
These are photos of Deb Merrill Lewis’ birdbath from this past week 1/15/24. She posted it on Facebook, and several people said they were surprised to see Robins in Winter in the Pinewood/Lyons area.
Note, the water heater: The heater is attached to an extension chord that is secured in a waterproof casing and fastened by the bungee.
“Robins primarily eat berries over the winter and they are currently eating juniper berries like crazy, which we have an abundance of,” said Deb. “After gorging themselves, they need lots of water to move the berries through their crops, hence so many at my heated bath.”