Pine siskins and red polls feed at a Homer, Alaska, house in February 2018. (Photo by BJ Hitchcock)

Pine siskins and red polls feed at a Homer, Alaska, house in February 2018. (Photo by BJ Hitchcock)

Winter is a great time to feed the birds

If you enjoy watching birds, you may want to put up some bird feeders. Feeders will draw birds in for closer and longer viewing. They also will help birds make it through the long winter months when there is not as much food available.

There are many different types of food and feeders for birds. One of the most popular foods is BOSS, or black-oil sunflower seed. This small seed is nutritious, high in energy, and has a thin shell, making it the preferred food for chickadees, nuthatches, finches, sparrows and many other birds. If you’re only going to put out one type of seed, BOSS is the one to get.

There are many bird seed blends available that contain BOSS, but unfortunately some of the contents are filler seeds such as milo and safflower that most birds won’t eat. It’s best to stick to black-oil sunflower seeds alone rather than a mixture.

Suet is a popular type of bird food. This can be bought pre-made, or you can make your own. Suet is high in fat. Woodpeckers, jays and nuthatches especially love suet that contains peanuts. They also enjoy peanuts in the shell and peanut butter, spread on a tree or on a suet feeder.

If you want to attract common redpolls and pine siskins you may want to invest in Nyger or thistle. This tiny seed requires a special tube feeder with small openings (to help prevent spillage), or you can buy white mesh netting that is pre-filled with thistle.

Robins are in Homer year-round. To attract them, you might want to put out some berries, sliced grapes or oranges. Another option is to soak dried raisins or currants in water, then drain and put out. Or, just put out some grape jam.

There are even ways to feed the birds that don’t require purchasing food. Birds need grit to help them grind up their food. Examples of grit are sand, or ground up eggshells or oyster shells. Eggshells need to be boiled first for 10 minutes, or zap them in the microwave for a few seconds. This will kill harmful bacteria. Then, crush them into tiny pieces. You can also save your pumpkin, squash or melon seeds. Let them dry prior to putting out for the birds. You can speed up the drying process in your oven on low temperature.

Smaller birds such as chickadees and redpolls will have a difficult time breaking open some vegetable seeds, so to solve this problem, run the seeds through a food processor prior to putting them out for the birds.

Leftover scrambled eggs? Put the excess out for the birds. Have some stale bread or crusts you don’t want? Put those out, too. But beware, you may attract more than birds. Here in Alaska where we have bears, it is recommended we only feed birds in the winter months.

If you have feeders, please remember that they also require periodic cleaning. When purchasing feeders, look for ones that come apart easily for filling and cleaning. Most are dishwasher safe. Or, wash by hand. Scrub off debris and soak them in a diluted bleach solution for about 10 minutes, then wash with hot, soapy water. Be sure to rinse thoroughly and let dry completely before refilling.

Wet seed can get moldy and cause the birds to get sick. If you care enough to feed the birds, please also care enough to keep them safe from harmful mold and bacteria by cleaning your feeder(s) every couple weeks.

If you’re just getting started bird feeding, be patient. Sometimes it takes a few days or even weeks before birds discover a new feeding location. And remember, BOSS is the overall best and most economical seed.

Bird watching is a wonderful hobby for people of all ages. Bird enthusiasts can also participate in a Citizen Science project for the birds called Project Feeder Watch. You simply count the birds that come to your feeders and submit the results to the Cornel Lab of Ornithology. For more information and to sign up, go to

BJ Hitchcock is a volunteer with the Kachemak Bay Birders, the group that sponsors this column.

For more information about Kachemak Bay Birders birding trips, meetings, and other activities and events, go to Check out also the Bird of the Month, Citizen Science opportunities, Local Bird Information and much more.

It’s a Great Day to Bird.

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