Calendar  |  Animals for Adoption  |  Grab Your Fork

From LDN's Fall Home Improvement Magazine

Winter birds bring color and drama to the backyard

Send a link to a friend 

[October 04, 2013]  During the spring and summer months, birds visiting backyard feeders are plentiful. As fall approaches and winter is on the horizon, some of the regulars at the feeder will begin their migration south. But, that doesn't mean there won't still be a variety of birds that can be drawn to your backyard with the proper enticements.

In central Illinois several birds do overwinter, including the northern cardinal, the black-capped chickadee, red-bellied woodpecker and the American goldfinch.

Other birds that may come in just for the season could include the dark-eyed junco and pine siskin.

The easiest way to keep a bird in the backyard is to provide it with a food source. While birds were created to forage the woods and be self-sufficient, in the common backyard they may not find everything they need to survive without a little human help.

During the winter months, birds require higher-energy foods to help them sustain colder temperatures. This type of energy can be provided through suet. Suet bricks typically are fat products incorporated with popular seeds. The "brick" can be placed in an open feeder or in a hanging feeder designed specifically for it. Suet bells can also be hung from tree limbs.

Another wintertime treat that some varieties of birds will enjoy is peanut butter. Here is a fun activity you can do with the entire family:

You will need pine cones, peanut butter, small wild bird feed and string. Place a cup or so of peanut butter in a microwavable container and heat until near liquid stage. Dip the bottom half of the pine cone in the warmed peanut butter and immediately roll in the small seeds. Set cones on wax paper in a cool location until the peanut butter sets up once again. Tie a string to the top portion of the cone and tie it to tree branches in your yard.

As the days turn drab, here are just a few of the winged wonders you can look for in your backyard:

Northern cardinal

The northern cardinal is one of the most well-liked winter birds. The males are a striking shade of red, with a reddish bill and black face. Females are a more subtle light brown, almost golden, with tinges of red on the wings, tail and crest. Cardinals enjoy all types of seeds but seem to most enjoy sunflower.

Black-capped chickadee

The black-capped chickadee is a social bird with a natural curiosity that actually attracts it to humans. It features a black cap and bib, white cheeks, gray back, wings and tail, and a whitish underside. Their body shape is small, with a round head that gives them an overall appearance of being plump little balls of bird.

They fly to the feeder, grab a bite and fly away to eat it elsewhere. They are also savers that collect seeds and hide them for future consumption. They have excellent memories, never forgetting where they've stashed their private store.

These birds enjoy suet in the wintertime along with sunflower seeds and peanuts. They are also easily drawn to window feeders because of their sense of curiosity and seeming lack of fear of humans.

Red-bellied woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker is one of the more flashy birds at the feeder. With their black-and-white striped backs and red heads, they are easy to spot, though they don't tend to stay at the feeder for long periods of time.

An interesting habit of the woodpecker is that it will grab up large nuts from the feeder, take them to a tree and wedge them into the bark, then peck the nuts into smaller edible pieces.

In the wintertime they enjoy suet, peanuts and sunflower seeds. In addition they enjoy fruit such as grapes, oranges and mangoes.

[to top of second column]

American goldfinch

In winter months the goldfinch loses much of its brilliant luster, taking on a more drab coloring. In the spring the males will develop the more brilliant colors, while the females remain drab.

Finches are drawn to small seeds such as nyger or thistle seed. They will feed at most any type of feeder and have no qualms about perching on hanging feeders that sway in the breeze.

One may identify the bird first by its song rather than its look. The notes of the bird song in flight sound similar to the words po-ta-to-chip

Dark-eyed junco

The dark-eyed junco is a species of sparrow that may arrive in the winter months. They have dark markings on their wings and bright white tail feathers that they flash in flight. The junco is also one of the most common North American birds, with an estimated population of nearly 630 million. They can be found in every state in the union, including Alaska.

These birds travel in flocks and are seed eaters, foraging for native grasses and weeds in the wild, and preferring small seeds such as millet in the backyard feeder.

Pine siskin

The pine siskin is a nomadic bird that may overwinter with you one year and be gone the next. Small in stature, they carry brown streaks with flashy, bright yellow markings on their wings that show when they flutter around feeders.

The winter flocks develop aggressive tendencies around food sources. They will challenge competitors around the thistle feeder, lowering their heads, spreading wings and tails, and making threatening calls. They will also lunge at the competitors and engage in fights in flight.

These birds are unique in that they store food in their esophagus for later consumption. In cold temperatures, the birds take in food to digest during the night, helping to keep their energy level and body temperature high to stave off the chill.


Descriptions of birds and their habits obtained from


< Recent articles

Back to top