First snow feeding frenzy

So we got our first accumulated snow of the year overnight, and based on the amount we had to shovel it looks like we got around 5 inches.  So early this morning my husband and I went out to beat the snow off the feeders, top everything off, freshen the birdbaths, and enjoy the show.  And quite the show it was.  As fast as we filled one feeder and moved on, the birds swooped in for breakfast.  They didn’t even feel the need to move when we were within a few feet of them.

We had Goldfinches and Pine Siskins (first time I’ve confirmed them at my feeders this year) on the nyjer sock feeders, probably 10+ at a time.  On the ground we had Juncos, Mourning Doves, and a couple of American Tree Sparrows (in addition to the obligate House Sparrows).  The fresh suet blocks were visited by Downy Woodpeckers, one of whom was about 3 feet away from me munching while I cleaned the birdbath.  Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal were chowing down on the tray feeder while House Finches and other LBJs (little brown jobs, some sparrows that I couldn’t get a clear view of) were all over the hopper feeder.  Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches would come to the peanut feeder and snack.  I haven’t seen or heard my Blue Jay family yet, but I’m assuming at some point they came in for their daily peanut party.  And everyone seemed happy with the fresh, clean, open water at the heated bird bath.

And lest you think that my feeders are the only things that attract the birds, I got the joy of seeing several of my feathered visitors hanging off of the Ironweed, Aster, and Brown-eyed Susan seed heads in my dormant flowerbeds and munching on the seeds.  One little Goldfinch didn’t mind hanging upside down on the slender stalk of the Ironweed for several minutes, gorging on the native plant seeds.  I loved that sight both because it confirmed that my gardens do support native wildlife and because it made me feel less like a bad steward on those days when the feeders get emptied early and/or are not hanging because they need a cleaning.  There’s still plenty in my yard to attract the natives.

At the top of the feasting, I counted around 35 birds that I could see on the ground or feeders, and there were probably several more that were deeper in under the dormant plants.  So, even though I am not a snow fan I have to be grateful for the white covering on my yard this morning for allowing me a robust show of avian action.

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It’s a dirty job…

There are a variety of illnesses and infections that can impact birds, according the the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.  Some studies of implicated the increased density of urban development, as well as crowding at bird feeders, with increases in disease and death rates due to these diseases.  But luckily, a few regular maintenance tasks can help minimize the chance of a disease outbreak being associated with your backyard habitat.

Keeping a well-stocked bird feeder is important to attracting and maintaining a feathery presence in your backyard.  But another part of being a good avian steward is making sure that those feeders and the area around them is cleaned regularly to avoid spreading disease to your feathered visitors.

At least once a week, remove all of your bird feeders and give them a good cleaning.  This can be done by soaking them in a 1 part bleach 9 parts warm/tepid water solution for at least 3 minutes and then giving them a good scrub, rinse, and allowing them to dry.  You can also run them through your dishwasher (assuming you have bird feeder materials that are dishwasher safe).  Scrub all of your birdbaths with a bleach solution as well and make sure to rinse them well and allow them to dry.  This all seems fairly easy, but it is also a task frequently overlooked.

The messiest part of your weekly bird feeding cleanup is removing the discarded food and shells that are tossed onto the ground by your beautiful but messy visitors.  There are many birds that will forage on the ground for seeds that have fallen or been tossed from your feeders, but you don’t want to let these seeds pile up indefinitely hoping someone will come along the munch on them.  Molding seed on the ground can spread disease and attract rodents, uneaten seed can sprout, and discarded shells can smother out surrounding plants when they get piled up.  Take gloves, a broom, shovel, and a bucket out with you and scoop up all those discarded hulls and seeds to keep the area clutter free for your ground-feeding visitors.  These hulls can be put into your garden compost pile to help supplement your garden in the spring!

So prepare your back and hands for a weekly scrubbing and scooping project.  But if you need to keep your positive attitude while partaking of this manual labor, just think of how you are helping ensure a healthy snack zone in your private habitat.