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Rifle, CO Colorado

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December 19, 2012
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Helping our fine feathered friends through winter

Winter is prime time for attracting birds. Beckoning birds to your backyard in winter can be easier than any other season if you provide what they need to weather and survive the coldest months.

Scarcity of natural available food, cold temperatures and severe storms push bird mortality high all winter long. You can help birds meet their nutritional needs during wintertime, and will surely be rewarded with a diverse, frequent flock of feathered friends.

There's lots of bird feed to choose from, and much of it is produced as a sideline business that can contain low quality fill that birds just won't eat. Some bird feed has even been identified as containing toxins known to be harmful to wildlife. Responsible research on your bird feed choices will provide birds with the food they require and protect them from toxic chemicals.

Birding expert Elaine Cole offers some timely tips to ensure birds in your backyard this winter season:

Feeding birds is by far the simplest way to attract them. Adding the best winter bird food choices to your feeders when the temperatures drop will give birds the extra energy they need to survive even the worst weather. Foods high in oil and fat are the most popular winter picks.

• Black oil sunflower seeds - Seeds have slightly thinner shells and a higher oil content than other types of sunflower seeds, making them a more efficient and nutritious food. Offer them in platform, tube or hopper feeders to attract a wide range of hungry birds.

• Suet - For maximum calories, suet is an optimum winter food choice.

• Peanuts - From jays and titmice to nuthatches and chickadees, many backyard birds love this high-calorie, fat-rich nut. Because peanuts don't freeze, they're perfect for winter feeding.

• Niger - Also known as thistle seed, this is a favorite food for winter finches such as pine siskins, redpolls, and goldfinches. Another oily seed that offers lots of calories, niger helps birds store fat they need to keep warm.

• Fruit - Many songbirds that favor fruit migrate in winter, but many other birds that stay in snowy areas year-round will also enjoy the treat. Offer chopped apples, orange wedges or banana slices on platform feeders, spikes or nailed to trees. Chopped or dried fruit can also be added to suet mixtures.

• Seed mixes - For convenient and economical winter feeding, nothing beats a good-quality birdseed mix. While birds can probably tell a good mix just by looking at it, humans cannot. Choose a mix that features large proportions of sunflower seeds and millet, but avoid mixes with large proportions of unappetizing fillers such as wheat, milo and corn. Birds will pick out the yummy stuff and leave the filler - and a big mess - behind.

• Water - Fresh, liquid, moving water using birdbath spritzers or fountains will readily attract many backyard birds in winter. Add a heater to your water supply and you'll be surprised at the number of birds that

use it.

• Shelter - A cozy place to roost will keep your backyard birds secure and comfortable even in the worst weather. Bird roost boxes and other shelters are essential to protect small birds from frigid, dropping temperatures. Offer birds a source of winter nesting material to use as insulation.

• Serve safely - Just as backyard birds may be more desperate during the lean times of winter, so are predators such as cats and hawks. Position bird feeders in a safe place to protect them, and pay attention to prints in the snow to learn what predators may be threatening your feeders.

Start preparing your yard for winter now so birds will learn it's a safe place long before they're in desperate need. By providing for birds' basic needs as cold weather approaches, it can be easy to attract birds to your yard in winter. You'll enjoy their company even when the weather is at its worst.

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The Post Independent Updated Dec 19, 2012 05:40PM Published Dec 19, 2012 05:38PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.