Now is the time to prepare bird feeders for winter, Lawrence bird aficionados say, because birds aren't feeding heavily yet and one never knows when Kansas weather will turn cold.
Joyce Wolf, National Audubon Society member of more than 20 years, said birds begin to establish feeding routines this time of year, and will come to rely on those necessities if they are provided early in the season.
Once offered, she added, it's important to be consistent in providing food, water and shelter from now through the return of warm weather next spring.
Wolf, fellow Lawrence Audubon Society member Jan Hall, and Karyn Baker Riney, owner of The Birdwatchers' Store, 17 W. Ninth, shared the following tips for winter bird feeding:
- MAKE SURE bird feeders are clean, particularly wooden feeders. They can be washed with hot, soapy water to get rid of mold, mildew and rotten food debris that can make birds sick. A feeder should be completely dry before being filled again with food.
- Supplying water will attract birds that wouldn't come to a birdbath unless ponds or streams were frozen. It also helps them survive when those natural water sources are unavailable. Change the water frequently to keep it clean and fresh. Inexpensive electrical heating units can be used to keep the water from freezing.
- Thick trees, such as spruces, can provide protection from freezing winter winds for roosting birds as night as well as feeding birds during the day. Placing feeding stations on the south side of buildings also helps protect feeding birds from cold gusts and may offer them a spot in the sun while they're eating.
THE BIRD WATCHERS agreed that all species have their own preferences about the food they eat and whether they eat it from the ground, from a hanging feeder, or from a platform.
But if a person wants to set up just one birdfeeder, they advised filling it with black oil sunflower seeds, which are preferred by the most species of birds.
Setting up a feeding station doesn't have to be expensive, either, they said. Small, plastic hanging feeders sells for less than $5 locally and black oil sunflower seed sells for 35 cents a pound.
Baker Riney said water can be provided in an upside down trash can lid or a clay flower pot, and water heaters can be had for less than $20.
Wolf keeps six or seven regular bird feeders and some hanging tube feeders as well as millet on the ground and suet in a hanging wire basket. Among the seeds she feeds are are black oil sunflower, safflower, sunflower chips and niger thistle.
"IT'S KIND OF fun to watch and to see which bird likes which food," she said.
Jan Hall's bird habitat in the back yard in her northwest Lawrence home includes sumac and honeysuckle bushes, spruce trees, prairie grasses, flowers, strawberries and other plants. She will increase the half-dozen or so feeders she has out now to a dozen or more sometime in October, when the weather begins to turn markedly cooler.
Hall says she thinks it is relaxing to watch birds.
"All the species have such different personality types, so it's interesting to watch them interact," she said.
She especially appreciates feeding birds during the winter, when everything is cold and frozen, she said.
"There's been so much habitat lost, I think that's one way to give something back."
Baker Riney said there's nothing as pretty as seeing a cardinal against a background of snow, and Wolf agreed. "It's a pleasure," she said, "to look out and see something wild, and you're helping it manage to cope with the weather."