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Feeding birds in winter


Feeding birds may be a hobby for some people, but continuing to restock feeders in the harsh winter weather may actually save the lives of some birds.

"Severe winter weather is not only hard on people, but can be a life and death struggle for birds," said Ward Upham, Extension associate with Kansas State University Research and Extension. "Though birds require water and shelter, food is often the resource most lacking during cold weather."

Birds struggle to find natural foods in prolonged cold periods or winter storms. It is crucial to keep feeders well supplied with nutritional food during these times.

Though some birds will eat anything, most have a favorite food according to a University of Maine Extension publication, "Bird Feeding Basics." Black oil sunflower is a common seed most birds eat, and is the favorite of at least 14 birds. Mealworms, or larvae of small black beetles, are gaining popularity in retail bird seed and are attractive to birds as well. Niger seed is popular with American goldfinches. Fruit, jelly and baked goods are also attractive to birds.

The type of seed used and the birds you want to attract will determine the type of feeder you should use. Tray feeders are good for ground-feeding birds and can be used for seed, baked goods, fruit and nuts. Hopper and tube feeders are intended mostly for seed and keep the feed drier than tray feeders do. Basket feeders are good for suet, fruit and other large food items.

For more information, see the "Attracting Birds to Your Backyard" video at www.kansasgreenyards.org or the "Bird Feeding Basics" publication at www.extension.umaine.edu/publications. See the list below for common Kansas birds and their preferred feed.

Cardinal, evening grosbeak, most finch species--sunflower seeds, all types

Rufous-sided towhee--white proso millet

Dark-eyed junco--white and red proso millet, canary seed, fine cracked corn

Many sparrow species--white and red proso millet

Blue jay--peanut kernels, sunflower seeds of all types

Chickadee and tufted titmouse--peanut kernels, oil (black) and black-striped sunflower seeds

Red-breasted nuthatch--peanut kernels, sunflower seeds of all types

Brown thrasher--hulled and black-striped sunflower seeds

Red-winged blackbird--white and red proso millet plus German (golden) millet

Mourning dove--oil (black) sunflower seeds, white and red proso plus German (golden) millet

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