My last column dealt with feeding deer and it sparked some interest, in at least one reader. Earlier this week, I stopped at a local store for my morning fix of strong black coffee when I was asked by a reader about birds. Can I feed birds?
With the freezing rain we have had lately, the birds will definitely need our help. Ice has coated all the plants and getting the seeds off plants and scratching at the ground for seed is nearly impossible. At our place the frozen snow and ice coating on the ground is around 2 inches thick and I can walk on top of it in many places. I have noticed numerous birds around our feeder outside my morning coffee window, gleaning whatever they can find.
Having natural food sources is great and preferred. Leaving headed out grasses and grains along with corn, will supply many a wild bird with food. Small property owners can plant sunflowers along fences, mixed in with grains and other wild foods for birds. Plant a wild food garden! The foods may not last all winter, so supplementing them may be needed.
Make sure you de-ice your bird feeder and have an ample supply of food available. Frozen birds are great in the freezer, but not at the frozen feeder.
Seeds of all sorts, like sunflowers, corn, wild bird seed and scratch feed will work. Wild birds will get grit from the side of the road, but having some near a feeder is always a good idea. The grit helps the bird breakup the food and digests it. I checked out Wikipedia on this so you get the facts, here you go, quoted directly from the source!
Gizzard stones 101!
Some animals that lack teeth will swallow stones or grit to aid in digestion. All birds have gizzards, but not all will swallow stones or grit. The birds that do, employ the following method of mastication:
“A bird swallows small bits of gravel that act as ‘teeth’ in the gizzard, breaking down hard food such as seeds and thus helping digestion.” (Solomon et al., 2002).
These stones are called gizzard stones or gastroliths and are usually round and smooth from the polishing action in the animal’s stomach. When too smooth to do their required work, they may be passed or regurgitated”.
There you have it, the real deal on gizzard stones!
Turkeys will be having a tough time this year so you may even see them popping up around the bird feeder a lot earlier than usual. You may need extra food on hand to handle the extra demand.
New York allows manure to be spread in the winter so turkeys will be able to pick through spread manure. When the tractor fires up, it is the dinner bell for turkeys, especially this year. Vermont has stopped all winter spreading of manure and from what I hear; it may have an effect on their turkey population.
Farmers will be seeing turkeys in feed bunks eating the corn in the silage. They will become a nuance. The farmers won’t be happy about that, but the turkeys are survivors and go where the picking is nutritious and easy.
If you enjoy having birds around, plan ahead and grow the natural feeds like grains and sunflowers for winter that will carry them through. In years like this however, we need to go to the backup plan of supplemental feed to help keep them alive. You can purchase both grit and wild bird feed, along with cracked and whole corn at local feed stores.
Check with a local farmer, they may have corn or other seed they can sell you. Support your local farmer. Farmers are feeding a lot more than just us!
We have always had a bird feeder to help the birds, but so far this year it will be a survival feeder.
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.