We have enjoyed such a beautiful fall, but each day inches us a day closer to winter weather. Our brief cold snap earlier this week is a quick reminder of what lies ahead in the coming months.
Our winter birds seem to be settling in — seed and suet eaters are a constant daily visitor at the feeders as they take advantage of reliable, predictable food sources. I often tease customers how ‘their’ birds have them trained. When the feeders get low, they hustle out there and refill them.
However, some of our winter birds are nomadic and range far and wide in search of new food sources each day. What are some of our nomadic bird species, and why are they constantly on the move looking for new food sources?
During the summer months there are several bird species found in the high-elevation mountains surrounding the Prescott area that eat a diet of insects. However, as winter weather approaches, these birds move to lower elevations and switch their diet from insects to berries.
Some of the birds that fall into this category include American robins, western bluebirds, Townsend’s solitaire and hermit thrush. These species are joined by one of our more common winter visitors — cedar waxwings. I saw a flock of at least 40 waxwings this past Sunday near Ruth Street.
In winter, these species frequent berry-producing trees and shrubs. It is not uncommon for these birds to descend in large flocks on shrubs such as pyracantha. In no time, they strip the bush clean and move on in search of another tree or shrub loaded with berries. Unlike seed feeders that get filled daily, that berry-producing shrub will not have berries the next day, so the birds don’t come back.
Providing berry-producing trees and shrubs is a great way to attract non-seed-eating varieties of birds to your yard in winter. Some of my native favorites include desert barberry, Wright’s silk tassel, desert hackberry and manzanita. Non-natives include Oregon grape, pyracantha, Bradford pear, purple plum and crab apple.
As our seasons change you might be wondering if there is anything you should do differently in winter from your regular summer bird feeding habits. Here are some things to consider:
• Use a heated bird bath or a bird bath de-icer (in non-heated bird baths) to maintain open sources of water for birds in winter. Sources of water are important for two reasons — drinking and bathing. Even in the dead of winter, birds need water. Bathing is an important habit as it helps to keep their feathers clean. Clean feathers provide better insulating capacity compared to dirty or matted feathers.
-• Consider the timing of when you provide food for the wild birds in your yard — at first light, and right before sundown. Following a cold night, birds forage actively for the first few hours. Once they are satiated, there is a mid-day lull. Then, they feed heavily again before sundown. Make sure food is available during these critical feeding times.
• On nights where the temperature gets down into the 20s, consider bringing in your nectar feeders after the birds have finished ‘tanking up’ for the night. Put the feeders back out at first light. Leaving nectar feeders out on extremely cold nights doesn’t help the birds, as it is not accessible to them when it becomes a solid ice cube.
• If your habitat is suitable for suet eaters, provide suet for wintering insect-eaters, such as bushtits, yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, nuthatches, woodpeckers and other birds that will use this high-fat, high-protein food source in cold weather.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.