By Polly Keary, Editor
Winter is the best time to feed wild birds, according to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Food can be in very short supply, and often urbanization has stripped away the open spaces in which birds forage.
And while setting out bird feeders doesn’t compensate much for loss of habitat, it can provide enjoyment for you,
interest to your yard, and a welcome food source for local birds.
At Del’s Feed and Farm Supply in Monroe, an entire aisle is given over to feeding stations for wild creatures, including many species of bird.
Birdhouses line up atop the shelves, and all manner of birdseed and suet are arrayed on lower shelves.
This time of year, you might find grosbeak, mourning dove, goldfinch, jays, starlings, woodpeckers, wrens, sparrows, chickadees and junco at your feeders. To attract the greatest number of birds possible, bring home red and white millet and black sunflower seeds, and also some suet.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends not buying commercial seed mixes, as the undesired seeds will get scattered all over the ground, making a mess and potentially drawing animals to the feeder you’d rather weren’t there, like raccoons and squirrels, or even bear.
Rather, mix your own, and if you’ve got the space, put each kind in a separate feeder.
Suet is only suitable for use in the winter months, as it is usually made of beef kidney fat, although vegetable suet is available some places.
Birds need a high energy source to make up for the insects not available this time of year. Suet goes in wire mesh hangers; in bear country, don’t hang suet past February.
Feeding birds is not believed to create dependency. But there are other risks to birds associated with bird feeders. The main one is cats. Make absolutely sure that your feeders are not close to anything from which a cat might leap and catch a bird.
Bird feeders should be sterilized annually, too, to prevent bacteria, viruses and mold.
Keep exterior screens over your windows, and keep feeders either more than 30 feet or less than two feet from windows (a bird striking a window from two feet away is not likely to cause serious injury to it). Window strike is a leading cause of death in birds.
And, to keep squirrels out of your feeders, purchase a squirrel cone, a green cone to place part of the way up the pole upon which the feeder rests.
However, you might also want to feed squirrels.
Squirrels forage relentlessly all winter long, and if you make it easy to find food, you’ll get regular visits. A dried corncob set up on a nail works fine; the squirrel can stand next to it and pull kernels free. And there are commercial foods available for them, too.
Food set out for wild creatures this time of year can create a lively and interesting landscape throughout the season, and can help keep the local populations healthy year after year.