A good way to beat the winter blues is to spy on the beautiful birds that spend the cold months in the Hudson Valley.
To encourage feathered visitors to your yard, check out these tips from Dr. Alan Peterson and Frank Margiotta, co-chairs of the education committee for the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club in Dutchess County.
“You’ll attract cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers with the right kind of seed,” says Dr. Peterson, a veterinarian with Community Animal Hospital in Poughkeepsie.
Black-oil sunflower seeds are high in calories and perfect for winter feeding. Dr. Peterson advises using sunflower hearts (seeds without shells), although they’re more expensive, if you want to avoid the mess of discarded shells.
Attract house finches, goldfinches, and white-throated sparrows with special seed. Use millet, and let it fall to the ground, where sparrows like to feed. Nyjer seed — a very small, narrow, black seed — will bring finches, redpolls, and pine siskins, just the right bursts of color to brighten your day.
The right feeder is important, too. Nyjer seed needs a tube feeder, while sunflower and mixed wild birdseed can use a traditional hopper-type or platform feeder. Suet — animal fat embedded with seeds — is a favorite of overwintering Carolina wrens and is sold in cakes that hang in small metal cages. Don’t get overwhelmed by the types of suet, Dr. Peterson says: “All the colors and flavors are for humans — I don’t think the birds give a darn if it’s pumpkin-flavored.”
Once you’ve decided on feed and feeders, choose your spot.
“Either put the feeders close to your windows, or 20 yards away, so birds recognize that it’s a structure,” advises Dr. Peterson. “If one does crash into the house and fall, leave it be and it will eventually take off. But if it’s really cold outside, put it in a shoebox and bring it inside to recover. Don’t lift the lid inside the house!”
Try to keep feeders at least 10 yards away from trees, to discourage squirrels. And install dome-shaped baffles above hanging feeders, and below pole-mounted ones.
Once birds start flocking to your feeders, you may just find yourself hooked on bird-watching. The Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club welcomes new members. It sponsors walks every Wednesday morning and on the weekends in Dutchess County, and holds monthly bird talks as well. And you can join Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project Feeder Watch if you want to help record data on these winged wonders.