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Winter Care for Wild Birds

By Ronald Patterson

Here in Michigan and other temperate climates, winter survival is everything for wild birds. The search for food starts at dawn and continues till dusk. If a bird is able to eat enough, it will store enough energy to survive a cold winter's night. It then starts all over for another day.

Wild birds or backyard birds depend on every seed, berry or insect it may find. With the continual decline of natural habitats, birds need our helping hands.

Caring and feeding for wild birds helps them to survive the winter and also gives you a sense of doing good. Helping out nature instead of taking from her.

Birds require food, fresh water, shelter from the elements and protection from predators.

FOOD: High energy food is important. Suet, peanuts, black oil sunflower seed all high energy food high in fat and protein. Nyjer thistle is a high source of energy for finches as well.

Cage feeders are designed to hold suet cakes, Tube and hopper feeders are designed to accommodate a variety of birds. Platform and peanut feeders are also available.

Pack down an area and toss some cracked corn and white millet for the ground scratching birds to enjoy.

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FRESH WATER: I emphasize FRESH WATER here. With a lack of natural water sources available in cold winter months, water can be scarce. Fresh water even more so. While birds will and do eat snow, this drives down their body temperature and uses valuable energy to melt the snow and warm back up.

Offer up some water with a heated birdbath or put a heater in your current bath. heaters cost no more to run the a light bulb and can save a birds life. Look for heaters that come with a minimum three year guarantee.

SHELTER: From the harsh winter winds and a place to snuggle. Use your old Christmas tree, or hang a roosting box. Plant lots of bushes and trees for your birds to roost in. Evergreens work wonders here as a wind brake and protection from snow fall.

Most birds will die at night from a lack of food, water and protection. Food and water are life's essentials, protection helps your birds to conserve vital calories.

PROTECTION: Birds need to feel safe from danger and offering protection will keep your birds coming back. Place your feeders and Fresh water source near trees and bushes. Out in the open. Enough for your birds to see if hawks are around and away from places where cats might hide.

By placing your feeding stations 10 to 20 feet from trees and shrubs, your birds have an open view and can escape most attacks from the air or the ground.

Research shows that birds get 25% of their food from human sources. How important is that 25% on any given winter's night?

Backyard birding is a healthy hobby for all and just about anyone can feed the birds. A hobby that can last a lifetime.

© Ron Patterson
Ron Patterson has been caring for wild birds for more then 40 years. Besides being a backyard birding expert, Ron is a Michigan Certified Nurseryman. As a nurseryman, he has combined his passions to design and plant backyard habitats to bring nature closer to home. Through most of the 90's to 2001, Ron and his wife Karen owned and operated their own wildbird specialty store. Ron also writes a down home weekly newsletter and backyard birding and garden tips. Sign up for His newsletter at:


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