There’s nothing better than watching songbirds at feeders during winter’s dreary months.

Cardinals in ruby red coats, woodpeckers in black-and-white tuxedos and bluebirds in royal finery brighten the grayest day.

“The frequent visitors to our feeders quickly become old friends – the same birds come every day, all day,” says Shirley Devan, outgoing president of the Williamsburg Bird Club – – in southeastern Virginia.

“I quickly learn who likes to eat seeds on the ground, who likes the seed feeders, who likes the suet feeders. Birds always surprise me. The red-bellied woodpecker likes the seed feeder more than the suet. The brown thrasher prefers suet. ‘My’ hermit thrush usually just sips water. I have a pair of downy woodpeckers – male and female. I like to think they nest in my neighborhood in spring and summer.”

Bird feeders for a home-based habitat are a personal choice.

Williamsburg birder Martha Wren Briggs says commercial feeders aren’t necessary because birds are tree or ground feeders, and each type eats bread and seeds tossed on the ground, or put in a flat dish. Fresh water is important even in winter and is best provided in a shallow dish, such as a large flat saucer used under large planters, because birds dislike a deep birdbath, she advises.


“Use your imagination to feed your tree-dining friends,” she says.

“The easiest way to serve fat trimmings from meats, suet or a peanut butter and cornmeal mixture is to simply rub it in the bark of a tree. Tree feeders will shimmy down the tree and peck away at the delicious treat.

“Wrens are curious birds. Place an almost empty peanut butter jar on the ground, and wrens will go in and out, taking a nibble each time.”

If you opt for traditional feeders, squirrels and raccoons may raid your seed supply, so baffle deterrents are your best friend. If blackbirds swarm your surroundings, caged feeders help keep bully birds and squirrels at bay; when you choose caged feeders, make sure the cages are large enough to prevent wanted critters from reaching in to grab goodies.

Even the posts that support feeders are important parts of the pastime. Wrought-iron poles with hooks for hanging feeders are attractive, but often they lean and fall in soft, wet soil. Feeders hung on trees are highly susceptible to predators taking advantage of the situation.

No matter how many or what style bird feeders you choose to use, there is one all-important aspect to remember – enjoy the sights and sounds of your feathered friends. They will probably stick around and nest in your yard, turning your environment into a healthy, happy habitat.


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