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Illinois hunting and fishing

A goldfinch digs in (left) while a house finch cracks a sunflower seed. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

Provide food, water and shelter for your backyard birds

December 26, 2010 at 07:53 AM

The State Journal-Register

PEORIA —Sitting inside sipping a cup of coffee, it’s hard not to feel a little bit sorry for our avian friends that spend the winter here in the Midwest.

So when the snow flies and the temperatures plummet, people start paying special attention to their backyard birds.

Providing food, water and shelter in the backyard is a good start.

Feeders bring them into easy view, and here are some tips to keeping the birds coming all winter long.

“Severe cold and snow cover on the ground make it difficult for birds to find food,” says Jim Parrott, who with his wife Deb owns Wild Birds Unlimited in north Peoria. “They need fat and calories help them get through the night, and sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet provide a lot of the fat and calories they need.”

Illinois hunting and fishing

Parrott says water is important for birds, especially when other sources are frozen. Heated birdbaths keep water open for drinking and bathing.

And don’t worry about the birds freezing into popsicles. Their feathers are designed to shed water.

“Their feathers,” Parrott says, “have an oily coating so the water is not going to really stick to the feathers when they fly away.”

All living things need shelter, so leave birdhouses put – even if nesting season is long past.

“A lot of people will take down birdhouses but some birdhouses can provide cover,” Parrott says.

Wren houses with particularly small holes probably won’t be much help, because most birds small enough to use them have gone south.

However, bluebird houses may provide shelter for a variety of species — including any bluebirds that stick around.

“Bluebird houses have a 1-½ inch hole, and there are a lot of birds that can use them,” he says.

Use weather stripping or putty to plug drain holes and gaps designed to provide ventilation.

Those aren’t as important in winter, because less precipitation is falling as rain, Parrott says.

Tighter houses keep drafts out.

“If there is no nesting material in the bottom, an inch or two of dried grass or wood chips make real good bedding material,” he says.

Backyard birders don’t have to just watch. Birding can be a participatory sport, too.

Every winter, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society direct the Great Backyard Bird Count. This year, the count will be held Feb. 18-21.

Participants can count as little or as much as they want.

Generally, the total for a species is the largest number seen together at one time during the count period.

The purpose of the count is to provide a snapshot of bird abundance and distribution across the North American continent.

Retired Bradley University professor Richard Bjorklund says he’s been seeing purple finches at his feeders on the edge of the Sand Ridge State Forest south of Peoria.

“Purple finches have been coming back,” he says. “I’ve had about 10 around my feeders.

“I’ve also seen brown creepers and they’ve been coming back, too. Dark-eyed juncos – they’re all over the place.”

Be aware of birds that don’t necessarily frequent feeders.

Bjorklund says a plentiful acorn crop may be the reason so many blue jays are staying around this winter.

There are enough acorns to keep the squirrels busy.

“This year I have no squirrels coming to my feeders,” he says with a laugh. “I suspect they have so much to eat elsewhere they don’t have to bother with my oil sunflower seed.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Illinois hunting and fishing

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