I’ve fed birds for a long time. There’s just something innately peaceful about sitting inside on a cold winter day, cup of hot chocolate in hand, watching the colorful birds come and go feasting on the banquet I’ve laid before them.

I’ve fed birds for a long time. There’s just something innately peaceful about sitting inside on a cold winter day, cup of hot chocolate in hand, watching the colorful birds come and go feasting on the banquet I’ve laid before them.

I guess I also find it challenging to see if I can entice something unusual or rare, capture on film an extraordinary number of a single species, or just a complete congregation of birds!

Since my whole family and most of my friends also enjoy backyard birdfeeding, it can become quite competitive as to who can attract the rarest, or the largest number of birds.

I remember when my grandmother was in the nursing home and my mom was trying to think of something to get her for Christmas. Grandma couldn’t move about very well; didn’t enjoy watching TV, and couldn’t really carry on a conversation, making gift-buying especially difficult. My mom came up with a great idea. After first checking with the nursing home staff, mom bought a bird feeder, an identification card, and a metal trash can full of quality bird seed. She also gave a “bonus” to the maintenance man as a favor for keeping the feeder filled.

The feeder was hung in a tree near the lobby of the nursing home. It didn’t take long for the birds to find it. The residents gathered indoors to watch the birds, my grandmother the center of the action. Her gift was a big hit for everyone, and enjoyed for many years. Other families contributed to the birdfeeding station and the area soon became a favorite gathering place for the residents, families, and staff.

Different seed types will attract different bird species, and require different styles of feeders. Probably the best all-round bird seed is sunflower hearts. Buying just the hearts prevents the messy build-up of shells and they are very nutritious. However, they are also expensive. Purchasing sunflower heart chips are quite a bit less expensive and still have all of the benefits of the whole hearts. Pound for pound they will end up cheaper than purchasing whole seeds.

Sunflower hearts, or chips, can be used in most feeder types including hoppers, tube feeders, and platform feeders. They will also attract desirable species of songbirds including cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, grosbeaks and finches.

Niger seed is often used to attract goldfinches and used only in tube feeders. The seed is so light, if used in other feeders it will blow away. Niger is the most expensive, but the results can be quite rewarding. Some tube feeders are made just for Niger seed with the hole below the perch. Goldfinches are the only birds which can hang upside down to eat the seed. Watching this is very entertaining!

To attract ground feeding birds like desirable sparrows (white-throated, gold-crowned, fox, Lincoln’s, and others) use a platform feeder. Seeds like sunflower hearts and cracked corn work well for platform feeders. Be careful, though, cracked corn can sometimes attract undesirables like crows, blue jays, cow birds, and blackbirds. If this happens, you can stop feeding for a few days until they leave and then begin again without the cracked corn.

Don’t forget suet cakes and raw peanuts for the woodpeckers and sapsuckers. At my house, the wrens and nuthatches will even come to these! Avoid pre-mixed bird seed sold in bulk, as they contain mostly millet and are not eaten by most birds.

It’s important to keep the feeders clean as some bird diseases can spread through dirty feeders; cleaning them before they’re stored, and about once a month is a good idea.

One of the single best things you can do to attract winter birds is provide water. A water heater makes it easy, but putting out clean water each day at the same time will work, too. You can simply rotate pie tins. When one freezes over, put a clean one out the next day and bring in the frozen one. The birds will become used to the time you put it out and will wait for it.

Maintaining a birdfeeding station throughout the winter months can bring color on gray days lifting spirits and making connections with us to nature.