A Safe Winter Haven For Feathered Friends

Preparing your backyard for winter birds.

Snow Birds
November is the time to ready the backyard for winter birds. Here are some easy steps to make yours a safe haven for feathered friends.

Thanksgiving – for most – is a time to celebrate the bounty in our lives. For Dallas birders, it’s also the time to keep your eyes peeled for the arrival of the gregarious American goldfinch. In summer, the dapper finches are lemon yellow with distinctive black caps, wings, and tails. In winter, their feathers become inconspicuous to blend with a more barren environment. When you spot a flock of the drab, olive-colored finches on your feeder, it’s official: Winter has begun.

Attracting goldfinches to your yard is easy. The first step is to hang a yellow-capped tube feeder with tiny holes for small-beaked birds, and fill it with fresh Niger seed, commonly known as thistle. If you’re a first-timer, place the feeder away from trees so that finches flying over treetops searching for food can see it. Once they’ve discovered the feeder, you can move it closer to a hedge or bushy area – and, ideally, a window – so that they will be near cover. Don’t be surprised if a few reddish house finches join the goldfinches – thistle is a favorite high-energy snack for the whole finch family.

November is also the time to start or redesign your backyard feeding system to attract more of the birds that winter here. Dallas is full of interesting species that you would never see unless you looked for them. The easiest way to spot them is to set out a winter buffet and have them come to you.

To maximize viewing, put several types of feeders filled with different seeds at varying heights around your yard to accommodate the preferences of different birds.

WHERE TO FIND

FEEDERS & FOOD:
Wild Birds Unlimited sells a wide variety of feeders, baths, and seeds. They offer bulk discount “banks” where you can purchase all your winter seed and “withdraw” bags from their stores when you need them. The sales staff is well educated in backyard birding. 4314 Lovers Ln., 214-891-9793. 6333 E. Mockingbird Ln., 214-821-7400.

BIRD BATH:
Nicholson-Hardie
5060 W. Lovers Ln., 214-357-4674.
Jackson’s Home & Garden 6950 Lemmon Ave., 214-350-9200.

The onset of cold nights causes birds to search for foods with higher fat content. A peanut feeder filled with delectable peanut bits and pieces is a great way to attract all kinds of songbirds and woodpeckers to your yard. Peanuts are a high-energy and high-protein food, and a sturdy feeder is nearly indestructible (translation: squirrel proof!). Whole shelled peanuts also pack a lot of entertainment value – instead of dropping in for a quick bite of seed, birds stay on peanut feeders longer. Hence, you’re able to enjoy chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers. And the “no mess” factor makes it easy to hang a peanut feeder close to a window without shells scattering across your patio.

It’s also important not to forget your regular year-round resident birds like cardinals, blue jays, and sparrows. Invest in a good all-purpose seed feeder – either a hopper-style with feeder trigger release or tube feeders with trays – that holds mixed dry seed or, preferably, safflower seed. Safflower is higher priced, but squirrels, grackles, and starlings don’t like it. If you’ve used inexpensive seed, you’ve already learned that you get what you pay for.

Hanging a suet feeder on the trunk of an old tree will also attract woodpeckers that call Dallas home. Depending on your location, you’re likely to notice a downy, red-bellied, hairy, redheaded, or yellow-bellied sapsucker. And it’s not uncommon for trained eyes to spot a northern flicker.

If you want to get really serious about winter birds, set out a platform feeder near a brush pile or shrub. Just a few handfuls of whole millet will attract juncos, doves, and the lovely song of the white-throated sparrow.

And don’t forget our faithful mockingbirds – they’re satisfied by a half of an apple stuck on the end of a nail or hanging from a tree.

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Splish Splash!

If you do only one thing for your backyard birds, invest in a birdbath. It’s fun to watch them frolic and preen, but by providing a shallow pool of water, you are giving them a winter gift. Birds change the body feathers that insulate them once a year, and if they don’t keep those feathers in good repair and parasite free, then they can’t insulate themselves properly. Ever notice a skinny songbird morph into a little round blob of a bird? It’s not because the bird has more feathers in the winter. The illusion is caused when a the bird opens its inner body contour feathers and creates a dead air space between the body feathers and the harder outside feathers. Like the insulation in your home, properly maintained feathers allow birds to regulate body temperature. Don’t forget to add a water wiggle or de-icer to keep water from freezing.

AUDOBON TOURS  Get out and greet our winter visitors who flock to White Rock Lake. Local bird expert Chris Runk leads a popular tour several times a year. Grab your binoculars and join the group at 8 a.m. in the dirt parking lot near the spillway on Winstead Road just off Garland Road. From there, you’ll set out to explore the old fish hatchery. Once the leaves fall, expect to see kinglets, exotic sparrows, winter wrens, barred owls, and gulls. Nov. 12 and Dec. 10. www.audubondallas.org.

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