You think we humans are having a hard winter? Try looking at it from a bird’s point of view. Just as the days are getting longer and you are starting to feel like singing and looking around to establish a nice nesting territory and maybe attract an attractive mate, winter comes roaring back.
Snow and more snow, covering the bushes, including those that still had a remnant of berries, covering the ground so that there is no chance to scratch around and find a bite to eat. Keen eyed starving predators are waiting to pounce from the air or from behind big drifts of snow. And the colder it gets the more food it requires to stay warm. No wonder so few birds choose to stick around for twelve months and not go south.
Claiming your territory and holding on to it, impressing the opposite sex, building a nest that is safe from predators and feeding all those hungry babies is enough to turn the brightest of feathers gray and worn. And that is in the spring when the sun is shining.
In other words — feed those birds! The snowy winter has covered up most of the food sources birds would normally depend on. Right now they really are relying on humans for a few extra calories to tide them over until the snow is gone and they can forage on their own. If you have a bird feeder and regularly watch who comes to your back yard you know exactly what I mean.
If you have not been putting anything out for our feathered friends, now is the time to start. Don’t worry about making them dependent or think that you will have to do this for the rest of your life. This is a temporary situation and birds are used to seasonal food sources that peak and wane. They will be more than happy to get back to their regular diet once the snow is gone.
What to feed them? Birds are not picky eaters. Bread is fine. (It is an urban myth that it will swell up in their stomach and is bad for them.) Most any kind of leftover baked goods will be gobbled up. Crumbs for the ground feeders like the slate gray juncos and sparrows, larger pieces for the jays and cardinals. Watch the jays fly away with pieces only to return a minute later. They are stuffing it in nooks and crevices for future eating.
Dry cereal works, especially if it has raisins in it. Oatmeal, cooked or uncooked is a treat. A couple dollars’ worth of beef suet (fat) from the grocery store is excellent. Nail it to a tree trunk or hang it as net bag and the downy woodpeckers will love you until it is all gone. Most grocery stores carry wild bird feed in their pet section. Black oil sunflower seed is by far the best. It is cheaper by the ounce to get it at Home Depot but you have to buy a much bigger bag.
What you are offering is some temporary help to get our feathered friends over a particularly hard time. They deserve it, if only for all the mosquitoes and other insects they will eat this summer. So, do your part now and feed those birds!