From the ground up: Help out birds during harsh winter

Published: February 2 2014 | 7:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:02 am in

This winter has been brutal. Winter birds in Iowa are hardy, but food is key to keeping birdsí metabolic furnaces running on high. The smaller the bird, the more frequently he must eat. Chickadees and nuthatches have to eat almost constantly to survive. Some birds, like woodpeckers and Blue Jays, will even store food.

Enjoy birds all winter by providing shelter, water and food. Shelter includes the trees, shrubs and other plantings. Leave plants with dried seed heads like sunflowers and coneflowers to winter over for birds.

Water is the scarcest item in winter but can still be provided with dripping water, steaming water or just a daily shallow dish of fresh water throughout the winter. Heated birdbaths also are an option.

Some birds are easy to attract to bird feeders.

Use an assortment of feeder types mounted at various levels. Provide suet feeders for insect eaters like woodpeckers and nuthatches. Offer seed for others, but avoid seed mixes that contain milo (sorghum) and wheat, fillers that no birds like.

Itís best to provide the type of seed preferred by the bird species you want to attract, but, generally, a mix with the highest proportion of black (oil-type) sunflower seeds is best. Birds prefer black sunflower seeds to striped sunflower seeds.

Purchase pre-made mixes or make your own. ISU Extension suggests a mix of 50 percent black (oil-type) sunflower, 35 percent white proso millet, and 15 percent cracked corn. ISU also suggests peanut kernels (not hearts) in a small tubular or globe feeder.

When adding plants for birds, consider their preferred food sources like the common elderberry, serviceberry, and common chokecherry, the American plum and American mountain-ash. Also on the list are persistent food source like the American highbush cranberry, common hackberry, red cedar, nannyberry viburnum, Washington hawthorn, red osier and gray dogwood.

Lisa Slattery is an Iowa State University Extension Linn County Master Gardener.

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