With winter weather now taking hold, Vermonters are readying their bird feeders. But before residents put up their avian offerings, Vermont Fish & Wildlife recommends a review of the bird feeding basics.
"Birds of all species have very interesting behaviors, shapes, and plumage, and observing them up close is a great source of enjoyment throughout the winter months," said John Buck, Vermont Fish & Wildlife's migratory bird biologist.
Buck recommends that people only feed birds during the winter months to avoid attracting bears. Bears are very fond of suet and bird seed, especially black oil sunflower seed. Bringing feeders in at night doesn't work, because bears will still feed on seed that is spilled on the ground, and bears can also be active during the daylight hours. Bears that are lured by birdfeeders can become unafraid of people, which can result in the bear needing to be put down.
While the Department suggests a general feeding window of December 1-March 31, bears will continue to be present when the ground is snowless and abundant fall foods are available. Buck recommends waiting to put feeders out until 4-6 inches of snow cover occurs to be reasonably assured bears have denned for the winter.
According to Buck, birds don't generally need food from backyard feeders to survive, but the activity is a great way for people to interact with nature and if done properly, won't harm bird populations. Many local hardware stores sell bird feeders and a variety of seed mixes that will appeal to different types of birds. For an all-purpose food, black oil sunflower seeds will attract many native bird species.
Buck also urges people to clean birdfeeders at least once a month to prevent a buildup of harmful pathogens. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites can be spread through dirty feeders and make birds ill, particularly vulnerable species are common redpolls, pine siskins, sparrows, finches, and cardinals.
Buck recommends using a solution of one-part bleach to nine parts hot water to kill bacteria. Hot water with unscented dish detergent also does an excellent job. Bottle brushes work well in tube feeders. He recommends thorough rinsing and drying before refilling feeders, and cleaning up seeds and droppings below the feeder. Buck also recommends checking feed after rain or wet snow to look for clumping or rotting seeds. And feeders are best placed away from larger windows that birds can sometimes crash into. With some forethought and precautions, bird feeding can be a really rewarding activity on a dark winter's day.
Vermonters who feed birds will have plenty of company. Nearly half of households in Vermont feed birds each winter, contributing an estimated $65 million to Vermont's economy. People can help birds and other wildlife by making a tax-deductible donation to the Nongame Wildlife Fund on line 29 of the state tax returns or by purchasing an annual Vermont Habitat Stamp, available at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
Media Contact: John Buck, 802-476-0196