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Birds need a little help in cold

By Melody Bell Wilkes
For the Salisbury Post
Have you noticed any new birds in your yard lately? Besides the typical chickadee or cardinal, you might have seen a flicker, blue jay or a flock of robins.
Have you driven by more vultures in the sky or a large cloud of blackbirds flying in synch? Migratory birds are on the move and are looking for safe havens and food along their arduous journey to southern destinations.
Even an immature American coot was spotted recently, along with four Pekin ducks. Another welcome site and newcomer was a hooded merganser. It made a pit stop for a couple of days before moving on.
Whether you live by water or woods, it is time to break out the binoculars and watch the birds.
The onset of frigid winter temperatures, driving winds, ice storms and weeks of unpredictable harsh weather makes conditions for birds and other wildlife difficult. Many animals hibernate the winter weeks away in a safe place such as a den or burrow. Other animals like deer bear the brunt of inclement weather.
Some birds are residential and stay in the area all year long while others migrate to warmer climates. Migrating birds travel thousands of miles to find their winter grounds. It is a cyclic pattern that has been going on for hundreds of years. For this long exhausting journey, birds need to be in good physical condition, find adequate shelter and nutritional food along the way to restore their depleted energy supply.
One way you can help feathered travelers is to provide food and fresh water for them. Bird feeders are used most frequently during the winter when natural foods are in shortest supply. Keeping your feeders clean and within 10 feet of evergreen plants is a good idea. Shrubby and evergreen vegetation provides a perfect hiding spot from predators such as hawks.
Once feeding has begun in winter, it should be continued through the season. Otherwise, feeding birds may be left without a dependable food source.
You might be surprised at the number and types of birds you can watch all winter long. The more types of food available, the better.
Bird watching is a great activity for kids, too. Simple supplies such as an inexpensive field guide, binoculars, paper and pencil can inspire your child to learn about birds while enjoying the outdoors.
For best results to see winter birds, get up early, don a coat and enjoy a walk in the woods.
Winter bird food sources: Suet cakes made from lard, peanuts, berries and wild bird seed. Large seeds such as sunflower seeds, wheat, corn, oats, rye, buckwheat and soybean. Small seeds such as hemp, millet, rape, canary seed, chick feed and cracked corn. Fruits such as raisins, apple, banana and orange slices. Bread crusts crumbled and scattered on the ground.
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Melody Wilkes is owner of A Walk in the Woods, an environmental education company that provides outreach wildlife programs. Contact her at 704-436-9048 or visit www.awalkinthewoods.us.

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