Chickadee Tree

Bruce Whittington on the dos and don'ts of feeding wild birds.

Credit: iStockphoto

If you wish to make an effort to help wild birds get through the winter, you needn’t fear that they may become dependent on your kindness, says John Morton of Wild Birds Unlimited.

“Birds do their heaviest feeding through September and October, and during that time also store seeds and suet in the bark of a tree for when they require it in the winter. They also find insects and their eggs and larva in the trees. We’re simply giving them a helping hand and feeding them for the enjoyment of watching them.”

As for the dos and don’ts of feeding birds, Morton says do leave up your hummingbird feeder through the winter (Anna’s Hummingbirds arrive in October and are here all winter in coastal regions around Vancouver and Victoria), do supply birds with high-energy grains, oil-rich seeds and suet, and do not leave out breads or rice, which don’t provide the nutrients birds require and tend to swell up inside them, prohibiting the birds from eating other more healthful foods they may come across.

One of the most heartwarming images of winter is the sight of chickadees, their feathers fluffed like tiny down jackets, foraging for berries and seeds. For those hoping for lots of visits from chickadees and other neighbourhood birds, Morton suggests decorating an outdoor tree with bird-friendly food. Simply use rough brown string or raffia to hang the following foods from your favourite tree: Thick orange slices; dried apple rings; dried figs; pinecones packed with suet, nuts and raisins; pinecones packed with peanut butter mixed with cornmeal or seed (see recipe); tiny crabapples with stems; dried baby corn; small branches of red flame seedless grapes; and pieces of coconut shell.

Peanut Butter Stuffed Pinecones
250 mL (1 c.) chunky natural peanut butter, no salt
310 mL (1-1/4 c.) coarse yellow cornmeal
125 mL (1/2 c.) raisins
125 mL (1/2 c.) shelled peanuts
3-4 large pinecones natural string or twine

Tie a length of string around the upper part of each pinecone; this will allow you to hang them from trees. Mix together the peanut butter, cornmeal, raisins and shelled peanuts. Using your hands, a teaspoon or popsicle stick, press small amounts of the rich mixture into the grooves of each pinecone until all the crevices are completely filled. Hang your pinecone feeders in the branches of trees that are easily visible from your home.
Recipe courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited