Spring is in the air!
Last updated 4/6/2021 at Noon
Spring is here! Well, sort of. Central Oregon always seems to unleash more cold and even snowy days on us this time of year. Yet, still, the trees are budding out, and the bright greens of waking plants are appearing. Our avian friends, both the residents and the snowbirds returning from their warmer winter haunts, are restless.
This is the season birds begin the most important job they’ll have in their lives — making babies. Over the late winter and spring months, birds start staking out territories and hunting down nest sites. Birds know about how much space — territory — they will need to secure all the insects their hungry babies will need. These colonists will set about claiming these spaces and fending off interlopers.
Luckily for us, those avian pronouncements of ownership are often lovely, enchanting songs that fill our spring days.
Yet spring is also the time of year when native foods are the least available. Winter supplies have dwindled, and the new fruits, seeds, nuts, and insects won’t be in full force till later. While birds have adapted to this situation, this is a good time to have a full bird feeder.
Millet, thistle, and sunflower are the staples. But sunflower hearts can be a real treat for birds who can’t take apart a whole sunflower seed. Most birds will enjoy the high protein and easily digested sunflower heart, from the doves to the jays and everyone in between. Super-hungry robins, bluebirds, and meadowlarks will also relish in these nutritious seeds. Flat feeders are best for birds who aren’t adapted to feeders, but please avoid if you have the pine siskin due to the ongoing salmonella outbreak. Ground feeding is also an option.
Peanut butter is a huge sell right now. My friend Jane in Anchorage is currently feeding over 30 Bohemian waxwings (after 22 inches of snow) a mix of peanut butter (no salt, no sugar) and birdseed. She feeds this in a log feeder (with a perch). Do not smear peanut butter on trees though! Only feed fats enclosed so birds don’t get their feet in it and then spread it into their feathers.
Don’t overlook fruits! Many songbirds who eat insects in summer meet their winter dietary needs by changing over to fruit. These birds will gobble up nuts and seeds as well.
The thrushes — robins, Western and mountain bluebirds, varied and hermit thrush, and Townsend’s solitaire — all favor fruits once the cold hits. Bohemian and cedar waxwings go for fruits year-round. You will find these diners gorging on juniper, hawthorn, mountain ash, chokecherry, and other tree fruits, as well as some non-native and native shrubs.
Fascinating factoid: Birds’ digestive tracts actually adapt seasonally to the foods mostly eaten during that time. So, an insect eater who switches to fruit for the winter will have a larger gizzard than in the summer so it can digest high-fiber fruits. Their digestive enzymes change as well, to those that can break down the pulps and sugars of fruit.
Put out soaked, dried blueberries, currants, cherries, fresh grapes, orange slices, and apple bits. Thrushes go for darker-colored fruits, like blueberry and blackberry. Rehydrate dried fruit to make it easier for small birds to eat. Apple slices skewered onto tree limbs are a fun way to feed the fruit-eater.
Be sure to keep your feeders super clean as salmonella is still going around. Pine siskins are most at risk, so give them their own feeder and watch for sick birds. For more tips, go to www.nativebirdcare.org. For the birds, bon appetite!