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What's Happening in Your Backyard

Cold Weather Brings Feeder Activity on Wednesday, November 02, 2011

During warm weather, songbirds eat lots of insects and spiders. They’re nutritious and abundant, and for the most part, easy to catch. During fall and winter, non-migratory songbirds must shift their diets to fruits and seeds to survive.

Photograph of Golden-crowned Sparrow by Wood Village Backyard Bird Shop customer

During the winter, seed feeder activity increases, and suet and nectar feeders get lots of attention!  What seeds should you offer?  Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that high-energy black oil sunflower seed is the flock-pleasing favorite of birds that visit feeders.  It has a high meat-to-shell ratio; it is high in fat; and its small size and thin shell make it easy for small birds to handle and crack.  Try starting with sunflower seeds, then experiment with other seeds like millet, cracked corn, and nyjer “thistle.”

Welcome your wintertime diners with an open screen feeder, low or on the ground, with millet, cracked corn and some black oil sunflower seed. Then watch for interesting birds that may appear at those feeders!  Some of the newcomers may be:

White-crowned Sparrows— 6-1/2 to 7-1/2” long with a clear grayish breast and a puffy crown striped with black and white. 
Golden-crowned Sparrows—similar to White-crowned Sparrows without the black and white head stripes.  There’s a light yellow central crown stripe instead. 
Varied Thrushes—nicknamed “Alaskan Robins”,  they look like orange robins.  Watch for an orange eyestripe, orange wing bars, and a wide black (male) or gray (female) band across a rusty breast. 
Spotted Towhees—often on the ground, rummaging among dead leaves.  Slightly smaller and more slender than a robin, the male’s head and chest are black with white spots, its sides are red, its belly is white, its eyes red.  The female is a more muted version. 
Dark-eyed (“Oregon”) Juncos—sometimes said to be sparrows wearing black executioner’s hoods. They’re 6” long, with brownish sides and a black head.