Winter Birding for Families

By George Steele

The swal­lows are group­ing up on the phone lines. The mon­archs are on the move. There’s the first hint of col­or in the maple leaves. Ori­on greets you in the ear­ly morn­ing dark­ness. Win­ter is on its way. Time to get bird feed­ers cleaned and filled!

Feed­ing birds in win­ter is a fun fam­i­ly activ­i­ty. It’s a great way to learn how to iden­ti­fy the birds. Since many sum­mer res­i­dents have migrat­ed, there’s a small­er num­ber of species to match with those in your field guides. And the birds are up close. You don’t have to crane your neck for that flick of feath­ers dis­ap­pear­ing behind a branch full of leaves.

For starters, I rely on just two kinds of bird food: black oil sun­flower seed and what I call bird food goop.” I mix veg­etable short­en­ing with the cheap­est mixed bird seed I can find.

An easy feed­er for the goop is a small-sized log about a 2 or 3 inch­es in diam­e­ter and 1 foot long. Drill 1 inch diam­e­ter holes about 1 inch into the log in a vari­ety of places. Attach a cord or a hook to hang it. Fill the holes with the bird food goop. Sim­ple. Even eas­i­er: take a card­board egg car­ton, remove the top, then attach a string to it. Fill the cups with the goop. You’ll get chick­adees and wood­peck­ers hang­ing on it and get­ting much need­ed fat for energy.

Of course you can spend a lot of mon­ey buy­ing bird feed­ers to fill with the sun­flower seed, but there’s much more fun in design­ing your own. Plus if you’re repur­pos­ing plas­tic and card­board con­tain­ers, there’s an added ben­e­fit in the care for our environment.

I’ve designed an inex­pen­sive bird feed­er out of three 32-ounce Gatorade plas­tic bottles.

First make a con­tain­er for the seeds. Take two of the bot­tles and cut off the bot­toms. Take one bot­tle and cut slits 2 12 inch­es up from the cut-off bot­tom par­al­lel to its ridges. This allows you to crimp the open end of that bot­tle so that it can fit and slide into the open end of the oth­er. Snap the two bot­tles together.

Now make a place where the birds can get the seeds. Take the third bot­tle and cut the top off, just above the nar­row inden­ta­tion that goes around the bot­tle (about 2 inch­es down from the bot­tle open­ing.) This will form the por­tion of the feed­er that the seeds will spill into.

Cut out two oppo­site or three alter­nat­ing holes, like win­dows, around the bot­tle near the bot­tom. That’s where birds will have access to the seed. Cut two slits about 1 12 inch­es long down from the top where it was cut off.

To fin­ish, snap the seed con­tain­er por­tion into the open­ing of the third bot­tle. Attach a string or wire to the top of the feed­er. If a squir­rel chews it up, no prob­lem — build anoth­er one!

Final­ly, as far as feed­er ideas, there’s the human bird feed­er. Yes, a human. This works great at a pic­nic table, though you could set it up on a lawn chair. Build a frame large enough to hang an over­coat with a brimmed hat to top it off. Place this in the mid­dle of your feed­ing area. Sprin­kle seed on with the hat and coat. You could even glob the bird food goop onto shoul­ders or in pock­ets. The birds will get used to this scare­crow” laden with food and use it. If you have some­one that would like to have an up close expe­ri­ence with the birds, sim­ply place the coat and hat on that per­son. Have them sit in the chair or at the table. Sprin­kle seed on the hat and about the coat. Remind them to stay still — they are the feeder!

Be sure to put feed­ers up where there is shel­ter for the birds to perch and avoid preda­tors. Christ­mas trees at the end of the hol­i­day sea­son are fine. Don’t for­get water. Win­ter is a hard time for birds to find it, so pro­vid­ing a heat­ed bird­bath will pro­vide an addi­tion­al incentive.

I’m nev­er sure who enjoys these back­yard feed­ers more, you or the birds!


Fall 2019

Volume 37 , Number 3

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