Missing birds? They need food and water

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 7, 2014

SALISBURY — Many home gardeners have an interest in birds and are wondering, “Where are the songbirds?” Frigid weather lately is difficult for just about everything, including our birds. Freezing temperatures greatly reduce the chance of survival for song birds and other wildlife. The key to helping our wildlife is to provide ample food and water during this type of weather.

Wildlife experts explain supplying birds with ample water and food before nightfall is critical in excessively cold weather. Water is the single most important factor in bird’s winter survival. Bird bath heaters keep water flowing during freezing temperatures, providing birds with a ready source of water. These heaters don’t actually warm the water, but keep the temperature just high enough to prevent freezing. A few days of water often is the difference between life and death for small or weak birds.

Ample food supplies are also important. Bird food, feeders and other bird-related products are stock items for most garden centers and retail outlets.

Sunflower, the most common of all bird seed, is available as striped, black oil or sunflower hearts. Larger birds such as cardinals enjoy the striped sunflower seed, while chickadees, finches and other small birds prefer black oil sunflower seed. Sunflower hearts are the favorite of most all birds, especially with birds trying to feed their young.

Cracked corn attracts larger birds such as doves and blue jays. Larger, more aggressive birds may be distracted by placing cracked corn away from smaller feeders.

Millet is usually sold as filler for seed mixtures.

Smaller birds like sparrows, juncos and chickadees like this seed. So do the larger doves.

Thistle is a favorite food of yellow finches, but the cost is fairly high because it is imported from Africa. Many bird watchers choose to combine thistle, black oil sunflower and millet as the ultimate bird food.

Suet contains a mixture of animal fat and a blend of different types of grain and nuts. The fat content is a source of energy, which is especially important for winter survival. Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers enjoy suet cakes, which are a winter food and should be removed in the spring. Warm spring temperatures cause the fats in the suet cakes to become rancid, making birds sick.

Birds may be wary of new foods, so if you add something new to your bird-feeding station, offer it in a familiar place. If you buy a lot of seed, store it in a cool, dry place, in a rodent-proof, metal can, and be sure to check the seed often for mold. Dispose of any seed that appears to be questionable.

Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Call 704-216-8970 or email darrell_blackwelder@ncsu.edu.