Birds Blog

Winter Bird Feeding Part One: Determining Habitat

In this two part series, I will guide you through feeding birds during the cold months.

Cold weather is fast approaching the East Coast of the United States and resident birds will be making very important decisions regarding their energy expenditures. You might be thinking, “birds pay energy bills?” Well, they sort of do! What I mean is that birds have to decide how much time to spend on foraging (finding food) because time is energy!

Tufted Titmouse Image Credit: Orietta Estrada
Tufted Titmouse. Image Credit: Orietta Estrada

If a bird spends too much time foraging in an area that doesn’t provide enough food, that could mean that the bird will have less energy later to, for example, burn much needed calories during a cold winter’s night. In this two part series, I will guide you through feeding birds during the cold months. Let’s unpack it.

Part One: Determining the Habitat

First and foremost, you must figure out if you have an appropriate habitat to welcome birds. Here are a FOUR questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I have an outdoor cat(s)?
  2. Do any of my neighbors have outdoor cats?
  3. What are my HOA’s (Home Owners Association) rules on feeding wildlife?
  4. Do I live in a city?

#1. Do I Have Outdoor Cats?

If you answered “YES” to question #1, move on to question #2 — seriously. If you have outdoor cats at your home, you will endanger the birds that visit your feeders. Even if you hang feeder on a balcony, any morsels that drop to the ground will be eaten by birds, and that’s when tragedy can strike. Cats will be cats, c’est la vie.

The *only* scenario that I can think of, where it would be generally safe to feed birds if you have an outdoor cat, would be if you fed the birds suet on a balcony (not a deck that can be accessed by a cat). Here’s why: suet is a generally clean way to feed wild birds because it’s densely packed and doesn’t crumble easily — therefore, you would reduce the risk of any food dropping to the ground below your balcony. Do not attach a suet feeder to a tree. Instead, attach it to a free-standing pole, or hook, where a nimble kitty-kitty cannot reach.

Check out my Pinterest Board on Balcony Feeding.

Alternatively, when you put your cat out, bring in your feeders — if you can remember.

#2. Do My Neighbors Have Outdoor Cats?

See my *only* scenario above.

#3. What Are My HOA’s Rules on Feeding Wildlife?

Avoid drama. Check with your HOA on their rules regarding feeding wildlife. You never know which kinds of animals are deemed to be “pests” in your neighborhood and sometimes these types of animals enjoy trips to the feeders. Types of animals, you say? Rodents, including rats and mice, trash pandas, and if you live in an area with bears — bears!

#4. Do I Live in a City?

See the all of the above. In a city setting birds have a lot of maneuvering to do. It’s true, urban birds have it better but attracting pests, predators, or having your neighbors that live below you (if you live in an apartment building) give you the stink-eye every time they see you in the building (because of all of the bird droppings on their balcony from the birds visiting your feeder) is not a good situation for you or the birds. Again, avoid drama.

What if I Answered YES to One or All of These Questions?

Don’t fret. There are plenty of ways to get involved with birds and birding.

If you have outdoor cats, your neighbors have outdoor cats, your HOA prohibits feeding wildlife, and/or you live in a city, stay tuned this week for the FIVE ways you can get involved and enjoy birds in the wild.

What if I Answered NO and My HOA is Cool?

Stay tuned for next week’s post: Part Two: Feeders.

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Also read…

Quick and Dirty: Steps to Cleaning Your Feeders

For Beginners: Tips for Hanging Up a Last Minute Hummingbird Feeder

Owl Vs. Owl: Species Overlap