The World Around Us:

At the Birdfeeder

Sometimes looking at the birdfeeders, it’s easy to wonder whether we have them for the birds, as entertainment for our cats, or just to provide some connection to nature for us. 

An array of birds overwinter in the Northeast, and of course the cardinal, due to a unique molting habit, is the easiest to spot and the best one to photograph in a snowy landscape. He and his less colorful mate are among the only songbirds we have here in the winter. Chickadees are friendly birds — when they know you, they will stay very close by and wait for their feeders to be replenished. 

Besides birdseed geared toward the species you want to attract, it is also good to offer bananas, raisins, apples, pears, oranges, and crushed unsalted peanuts. Read the labels on the packaging and put different types in separate feeders so that the larger and/or more aggressive birds are not competing with the smaller or shyer ones.  Make sure the ground feeders get their share, too. 

A fun project for anyone is to roll pinecones or empty cardboard tubes in natural peanut butter and then again in birdseed. Attach a string first to hang them close to branches. The fat in the peanut butter is a good source of energy to help keep birds warm in the winter.  

Cat inside observing bird through window
Cats inside, birds outside – keeps everyone happy and safe. Drawing by the late Julie Tanner, dedicated animal advocate.

Feeders hanging from trees provide birds perches to rest on while waiting for their turn to eat as well as a spot to ingest their food. Keep a source of water out as well. Change the water frequently to keep it clean and from freezing, if possible in a sunny spot, or use an electric outside water dish.

A frequent visitor to the birdfeeder is the gray squirrel. These entertaining critters interact well with the birds despite the fact that they steal much of their food! Squirrel proof feeders can be purchased, or one can easily make a hole in a plastic or paper plate to secure on top of any that are not already designed to keep squirrels out. But why not put enough seed out for everyone? Squirrels are a great part of our ecosystem, and their forgetfulness about where they bury nuts for future meals is largely responsible for many trees which grow naturally. Remember, trees are good for birds, so even though we think of squirrels as little thieves, in the long run their antics should be forgiven!

The best time to feed these animals is early in the morning to give them nourishment and energy for their day, and late in the afternoon for extra calories to help them keep warm during the night.  Feeding them all is a simple way to thank them for being there for us. 

New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XXXVII, Winter/Spring 2021.