No matter how much snow the weatherman forecasts; I LOVE feeding and watching birds from my backyard window. Winter is the season of survival for nearly every living creature in Iowa. Be it the daily search for seasonally depleted food sources or the challenge of regulating body temperatures, animals face much stiffer challenges than humans do in the wintertime. To meet their daily survival needs animals literally go M.A.D. in the winter. They must Migrate, Adapt or Die.
The best way to attract birds to your backyard is to have a variety of feeders and bird seed available. Common bird feeders include platform, tube, and suet feeders. Birds like cardinals and blue jays prefer coming to platform feeders filled with sunflowers. Chickadees and nuthatches enjoy tube feeders with sunflowers too. Don’t be scared to throw a handful of sunflower seeds on the ground to see what feathered friends will show up!
Goldfinches, pine siskins, and purple finches really enjoy thistle seed. It’s more expensive than regular sunflower seed- but you get your money’s worth out of it with the unique diversity of birds it attracts! If you’re looking to attach woodpeckers to your yard, placing a suet feeder is a great place to start. Don’t be surprised if other birds such as nuthatches and chickadees also start coming to the suet too!
Other things to include in your backyard to attract birds include a variety of shrubs and plants. Dogwood, cherry, and plum are all good shrubs to plant. Birds love to have places to both perch and hide from predators in the winter- so think the messier the better! Also, leaving a scattering of leaves on your yard is beneficial to insects that may live under them and the birds that eat the bugs during the late winter and early spring thaw.
Ornithologists are predicting it will be a good year for winter birds in the Midwest. Be on the lookout for evening grosbeaks eating sunflower seeds at your feeder. These chunky yellow and black birds breed in the boreal forests of Canada and infrequently make their way south every dozen years or so when the food crop isn’t as good up north. Other cool birds that may appear at your thistle feeder this winter include purple finches, redpolls, and pine siskins. These species nest much further north but will occasionally zip down to overwinter in Iowa.
Further ways to get involved with helping the birds include participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count on February 12-15, 2021. This fun event has you watch your backyard feeders and submit your bird reports online. The Iowa Young Birders Association also hosts a variety of in-person and virtual events throughout the winter. No matter how cold it is, or how grey the skies, know the birds are there to brighten up your day this winter!