Connected To The Land 04-2018-Fall-718-PM96 - Page 38

Seeds and nuts can be served in a variety of ways, from simply scattering on the ground to being dispensed from tray, hopper and tube feeders. Feeder designs continue to improve and a wide variety of styles are available at garden, farm and hardware stores. Pileated Woodpecker. Photo by Myrna Pearman. Suet: Suet, which can be served raw or rendered and mixed with other ingredients, is relished by many bird species (e.g., woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches). Stores that sell bird seed also carry small suet cakes, which are an easy and inexpensive way to dispense this nutritious offering. WATER and water. Conserving natural habitat is by far the best option, as birds (and other wildlife) are well-adapted to survive in these complex and diverse ecosystems. There are two main types of supplemental food that can be offered in the winter: seeds (including nuts) and suet. Seeds: Although there are different types of bird seed on the market, the most popular are sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds come in two varieties, black oil and striped, and can be served shelled or unshelled. Although the shelled seeds are more expensive, they are becoming increasingly popular because they leave less waste and the smaller species (e.g., redpolls and siskins) prefer them thus served. A Pair of Crossbills. Photo by Myrna Pearman. While winter birds will glean food from grasses and other seed-bearing plants that stick up above the snow, wooded areas provide critically important winter habitat because they offer both food and shelter. Not only do trees and shrubs produce edible seeds, berries, samaras etc., they host highly sought-after frozen insects on and in their bark. Finally, woodlots provide critical shelter for overwintering birds, especially at night and during stormy weather. The snags (dead or dying trees) that are often found in wooded areas are important “cafeterias and condominiums” for many bird species. Other seeds that are attractive to some winter bird species include corn (e.g., jays, sparrows and grouse) and nyger seed (e.g., finches). Less popular seeds include canary grass seed, canola, milo, millet, safflower and vegetable and fruit seeds. The seeds to avoid are the cheap mixes that contain cereal grains, red milo or other filler seeds, none of which are favoured by northern birds. Nuts: Many birds (e.g, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches) will eat nuts, with shelled and unshelled peanuts being the most popular. Other nuts, including walnuts, cashews, pecans etc. can also be served. As mentioned above, one of the components of habitat is water. While birds require water, even in the winter, resident species are well adapted to obtaining moisture by eating snow. However, since birds will avail themselves of open water if it is available, a heated bird bath is an easy way to provide water for the birds all winter long. Whether you live in the wilderness or in an urban condominium complex, sharing your outdoor living space with the birds is guaranteed to bring hours of entertainment, education and enjoyment. More information on providing habitat for backyard wildlife can be found in NatureScape Alberta: Creating and Caring for Wildlife Habitat at Home (available at, and details about feeding backyard birds can be found in Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide (available at Peavey Mart stores). Profits from the sale of these books support the conservation and education programs of Ellis Bird Farm. W Myrna Pearman ( is the Biologist and Site Services Manager at Ellis Bird Farm ( A keen wildlife photographer and writer, she is a columnist for the Red Deer Advocate, Nature Alberta and The Gardener magazine, and has authored several books, including the Canadian best-seller, Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide. Pine Siskins. Photo by Myrna Pearman. Since bird feeding stations supplement—not replace—the food that birds are able to find in healthy ecosystems, it makes sense that feeding stations located in or near natural habitats will be much more popular than those placed in denuded landscapes. And while feeding stations might be busy and popular, it is important to remember that birds do not become dependent on feeder food nor do they concentrate all their time at feeding stations. It is a critical winter survival strategy for birds to have a variety of food sources within their specified winter territories. 38 Connected to the Land