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    Backyard Birds

    Common Backyard Birds and What to Feed Them

    Benjamin Kilbride, Editorial Assistant at The Old Farmer’s Almanac

    As winter sets in, birds are always on the lookout for food. Learn how to attract a few birds that you might see in the backyard.

    Why Feed Birds?

    Setting up feeders can help backyard birds survive the harsh temperatures and conditions of winter. While bird feeders are not essential to the overall life of birds, they can certainly make it easier for our feathered friends when food is scarce. Feeding birds is also a great way to interact with wildlife without impacting their natural behaviors—you can watch and appreciate birds from a safe distance while they eat.   

    When to Start and Stop Feeding Birds

    To avoid attracting bears into human-populated areas, set up feeders only when there are consistently cold winter temperatures—in late November or early December. To prepare for hibernation, black bears triple their daily calorie consumption, starting in September. Bird feeders set out too early will draw bears, teaching them that the best way to find food is to find humans. This learned behavior increases the number of interactions between bears and humans, to the point where bears break into houses in search of food. Most of these situations end with the bear being either tranquilized and relocated or killed. Avoid impacting wildlife by setting up bird feeders after bears are hibernating. In the spring, take down feeders around April 1.

    Identify Ten Common Birds

    American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

    Colors: Yellow, black, and white.

    Behaviors: Can be seen flying in short, bounding swoops accented by sharp chirps.

    Habitat: Open woods, edges of roads and woods, and areas overgrown with wild bushes, thistles, and weeds.

    Preferred feed: Thistle seeds.

     

    American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

    Colors: Brown, orange, and black.

    Behaviors: Usually seen running and pausing on lawns or in fields searching for food. Forages in flocks.

    Habitat: Farmland, forests, and lawns in towns and cities. 

    Preferred feed: Berries.

     

    Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

    Colors: Black, gray, and white.

    Behaviors: Hops from tree to tree in short bursts of flight. Will take a single seed from a feeder and fly away to a branch before eating it.

    Habitat: Forests, edges of woods, and thickets and overgrown areas.  

    Preferred feed: Sunflower seeds.

     

    Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

    Colors: Blue, white, and black.

    Behaviors: Known for their plethora of song, sometimes imitating a red-shouldered hawk. The reasons for most of the sounds that blue jays make are still unknown.

    Habitat: Woods populated with mostly oak, pine, and beech trees. Can be found in suburban gardens and city parks.

    Preferred feed: Any and all types of bird feed.

     

    Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 

    Colors: Dark gray, white, and black.

    Behaviors: Can be seen regularly feeding on the ground in open areas such as yards and roadsides. Will feed underneath bird feeders.

    Habitat: Open woods, shrubby undergrowth, roadsides, fields, and clearings.

    Preferred feed: Thistle and sunflower seeds.

     

    House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

    Colors: Red, brown, and white.

    Behaviors: Forages underneath feeders and perches in low shrubs or trees.

    Habitat: Most commonly in cities and suburbs, but also seen around farms and in canyons.

    Preferred feed: Sunflower seeds.

                                                                  

    House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

    Colors: Brown, black, and white.

    Behaviors: Hops on the ground underneath feeders, scratching for food.

    Habitat: Found around man-made structures in cities and towns and on farms.

    Preferred feed: Thistle and sunflower seeds.

     

    Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

    Colors: Red and black.

    Behaviors: Forages on the ground or wide-platform feeders. Regularly perches in low bushes and trees.

    Habitat: The edges of woods, gardens, and towns; forest clearings; swamps; and city parks.

    Preferred feed: Sunflower seeds.

     

    White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

    Colors: Dark gray, white, and black.

    Behaviors: Easily identifiable by their iconic position of hanging onto the sides of trees while facing the ground.

    Habitat: Deciduous forests, groves, edges of woods and roads, and along rivers.

    Preferred feed: Suet and thistle.

     

    Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

    Colors: Black, white, and red.

    Behaviors: Forages on trunks and branches of trees, hopping from one spot to another in search of insects.

    Habitat: Old growth forests, river groves, swamps, and woodlands.

    Preferred feed: Suet.

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