Caring for the birds in winter

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | A male cardinal, spotted in Mashomack last winter.

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | A male cardinal, spotted in Mashomack last winter.

“Cover, food and water are what birds need.”

So began Mashomack Preserve’s Tom Damiani in his slide presentation to the Shelter Island Women’s Club on November 1.

He went on to say: “All birds need cover to protect them from their prey and while most can forage for food throughout the year, during the winter, water is often at a premium. If you provide it, try to keep it from freezing.”

He added that the best time to feed the birds is from November 1 to April 30, with April being of greater importance as most of the berries and insects are gone by then.

Bird feeders can be placed in trees, bushes, brambles and discarded Christmas trees. Feeders can also be hung on metal poles of various kinds, or placed in the ground away from trees.

Cylindrical plastic feeder tubes with tiny holes to just fit small beaks are good for the little birds, such as the black capped chickadee and tufted titmouse. Black oil sunflower seeds are small enough for the tiny holes in these tubes. The larger birds such as the northern cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker and bluebirds often ground feed on striped sunflower seeds, and white millet.

But they are prey for the sharp shinned hawks that perch in the trees looking for these birds for dinner.

Tom suggests that it’s best to spread the seeds over a large area so birds of prey have less of a smorgasbord to feast on. Many of the birds like suet and the wire cage it comes in can be placed against the trunk of a tree so the birds can perch on the bark as they feed. This should be removed at night to keep other critters from snacking on it.

Agway’s “Bird Snack” is a good mix of seeds for all the birds. But, stay away from red millet, oats, rape seed and bread as these provide no nutritional value for the birds.

Here on Shelter Island we are lucky to have Mashomack Preserve to visit and bird watch. For those bird lovers who feed them but are concerned about leaving them if they’re away from home for a few weeks, Tom said not to worry. The birds will survive and be there to welcome you back when you return.