Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Winter backyard birding basics
FRANKFORT, Ky. – The deepest, darkest,
bleakest part of winter is here. The long slog from just after the holidays
through the NCAA tournament is one of the toughest to weather, but watching the
many species of birds that inhabit Kentucky in your backyard can brighten the
most leaden days.
“Just this morning
I didn’t want to leave from watching all of the birds in my backyard,” said
Kate Heyden, avian biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife
Resources. “Winter is the best time to feed birds as they need the food now
more than at any other time of year and you will typically see a greater number
and variety of birds at bird feeders.”
Kentucky receives many interesting birds from the north in winter and again in
spring when many species return home from lands south of us, providing a great
variety of species to see.
Bird watching is a
good way to introduce kids into the outdoors and spark awareness of our natural
world. It is also productive practice for bird hunters, who must make quick
identifications of birds in the field.
An identification mistake for a bird hunter can be costly as songbirds
are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Waterfowlers must know the
species of duck or goose before attempting to take a bird or risk making a
mistake in their daily bag limit.
“You don’t need to
spend money on food or feeders to attract birds to your yard,” Heyden said. “If
you can leave a small area of your yard un-mowed, you can attract a lot of
birds. They eat the seeds from the grasses and weeds and use the area for cover
Employing a feeder
grants the ability for close study of birds. Heyden explained all feeders draw
birds, but those that keep the bird feed dry and free of mold are best. Moldy
seeds are bad for bird health. Place feeders either near a window or fairly far
away to help prevent birds from colliding with windows when startled.
The most common
feeder is a hopper or house feeder, usually made of windows of clear plastic
with that feed seed to a perching surface. These feeders attract cardinals,
nuthatches, chickadees, grosbeaks, buntings and titmice.
“One without a lot
of perching surface minimizes use by house sparrows or starlings,” Heyden
explained. “The most important thing is to keep feeders clean by washing with
bleach water every few weeks.” Washing with bleach water prevents the spread of
more expensive, Heyden feeds birds black oil sunflower seeds. “They attract a
wide variety of desirable birds without attracting as many pest species,” she
said. “The cheap bird feed is full of filler and often contains corn which
attracts squirrels, house sparrows starlings and crows.”
A suet feeder
attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and bluejays. Some birders push
suet or peanut butter into crevices in bark or in the cracks of old stumps to
attract these birds.
northern flicker or red-bellied woodpecker feeding at close range sears a
delightful memory into the mind of a youngster. “Woodpeckers love dead branches
on trees,” Heyden said. She recommended leaving a dead branch on a tree in the
corner or rear of the yard to attract woodpeckers if it is safe to do so.
“It is important
to provide water for birds in winter,” said Gary Sprandel, an avid birder and
geoprocessing specialist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. Place the water in a
spot in the yard that receives sun as its rays will melt some water for birds
on even the coldest days.
A good guide book
is essential for identifying birds. Looking up unfamiliar birds and learning
about their distinguishing characteristics is part of the fun of birding. He
prefers the “Birds of North America – A Guide to Field Identification” by
Chandler Robbins. “I like this guide because all the information about a bird
is on one page,” Sprandel said. “It is pocket-sized and easy to carry afield.”
binoculars now have coated lenses and other features that make them acceptable
choices for bird watching. “Don’t get zoom binoculars for birding,” Sprandel
said. “You tend to lose clarity at high magnification. A wide angle pair lets
in more light and makes it easier to find birds. Try them out before you buy.”
invites backyard birders to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count on
Feb. 13 -16. This project from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, the
National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada allows birders from all over
the world help scientists glean valuable information on bird populations.
You simply need to
record the species and number of birds seen for at least 15 minutes on one or
more days of the project. To participate, visit the Great Backyard Bird Count
homepage at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/.
is a family-friendly way to pass the long, dreary winter days. Plus, it is just