Northern Mockingbird

Both male and female mockingbirds sing. They often mimic the sounds of birds (and frogs) around them, including shrikes, blackbirds, orioles, killdeer, jays, hawks, and many others. They go on learning new sounds throughout their lives. The song is a long series of phrases, with each phrase repeated 2-6 times before shifting to a new sound; the songs can go on for 20 seconds or more. Many of the phrases are whistled, but mockingbirds also make sharp rasps, scolds, and trills. Unmated males are the most insistent singers, carrying on late all day and late into the night. Brown Thrashers have a similar song, but the phrases are less varied and most are delivered just 2-3 times. Gray Catbirds can also sound similar, but their phrases are more nasal, hurried, and slurred.

Northern Mockingbirds make a harsh, dry chew or hew when mobbing nest predators or chasing other mockingbirds. Mates exchange a softer version of this call during incubation and nestling periods, or when the female leaves the nest while incubating. Mockingbirds also make a series of 2-8 short, scratchy chat calls to warn off intruders. Females make a single chat when disturbed.

Window Strikes Kill about a Billion Birds a Year

Every backyard birder’s heart sinks at that “thunk” against a window, the unmistakable sound of a bird flying full tilt into glass. We dash to check. Did the bird strike only a glancing blow and fly on? Is it in a heap on the ground, dazed, a target for predators? Or, fear of all fears, is it dead?

PictureBirds don’t see houses as buildings with windows. They see obstructions with passageways. Of course they recognize a solid wall for what it is. But that window, reflecting foliage and clouds, looks like a passageway through the wall—an avenue to another feeding territory or a means of escape from predators. And so, thunk, into the “passageway” they go.

Recent reports from area backyard birders tell the story: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Indigo Buntings, Cedar Waxwings, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and, especially it seems, Mourning Doves—all fatally attracted to “passageways.”

And the plea is the same in every report: What can we do to keep the birds from flying into our windows?

According to Dr. Daniel Klem, Jr., a former Southern Illinois University ornithologist now at Muhlenberg (Penn.) College, collisions with glass kill upwards of a billion birds annually. Migratory birds crash into tall buildings during night flights, and, as Klem notes, a single skyscraper can kill 200 birds in a single night.

PictureIn fact, only habitat destruction kills more birds than do windows.

PictureResidential windows, however, according to Klem, “continue to kill the most birds for the simple reason that there are so many houses.” Northern Cardinals, Eastern Bluebirds, American Goldfinches—any of our favorite yard birds—startled by a cat, hawk, or other danger that provokes their frantic flight, flee headlong, smack into the reflection.

In full flight, a bird strikes glass with fatal force, breaking wings, beak, and/or neck.

Experts agree: Any solution involves breaking up the reflection, eliminating the “passageway.”

The traditional suggestion of adding plastic stick-on hawk decals gets little support from Klem and others who had little success with this method. The problem with decals, of course, is that birds don’t look at decals and think, “Hawk.” It’s just a small obstacle in the “passageway” around which they must fly. In fact, one friend reported a Mourning Dove crashed into their window precisely between two hawk decals.

But since it’s all about breaking up reflections, according to the National Audubon Society, decals of any shape, like hawks, dots, butterflies or stars, will work—but only if spaced uniformly, two to four inches apart, over the window’s entire surface, thus transforming the window into “an obstacle birds will see and avoid.”

Donald Burton, director of the Ohio Wildlife Center, says there is “no perfect solution” for homeowners “other than covering the entire surface of a window with netting,” a reasonably satisfactory method that is probably less obstructive than regular window screen.

PictureOther suggestions:
Place feeders and birdbaths within three feet of windows so that should birds fly into the window they will be moving too slowly to cause serious harm. Or, conversely, place feeders and baths a safe distance from windows so that departing birds have adequate space to avoid windows.

Since the ultimate goal is to break up reflections, try vertical exterior tape stripes placed about 12 inches apart. Or hang obstacles like tree limbs, strips of cloth, or feathers on a string in front of the glass. Or arrange interior vertical blinds with the slats half open.

But for those of us who don’t like to do windows, here’s a thought: Dirty windows don’t reflect. Excuse enough for me

Six Ways to Help Birds

Consider six simple things you can do for the birds.

First, cut your grass in half. Set aside a portion of lawn, perhaps along your property line, and quit mowing it. Allow grasses to seed, wildflowers to mature, and come winter, allow vegetation to flop over, providing natural cover for wintering sparrows. Better still, ask your neighbors to do the same, perhaps along joint property lines, thus expanding a single sheltered area. Seeds provide food; cover protects the little guys from the big guys, like hawks and owls, and protects any ground birds, large or small, from winter’s blustery elements.Picture
Reducing your lawn makes dollar sense, too. According to the National Wildlife Federation, “Annually, homeowners spend $25 billion on 20 million acres of a crop no one can eat, wear, or sell.” (Is this a moral issue?) We waste water and fertilizer growing it, contaminate surface water with pesticide run-off protecting it, waste gasoline and increase air pollution mowing, trimming and blowing it, then clog the landfill disposing of its clippings.

Second, avoid pesticides. Most birds—Carolina and House Wrens, Eastern Bluebirds, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, all the swallows, Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins, Common Nighthawks, all the warblers, vireos, and tanagers, even hummingbirds—eat bugs and feed their babies bugs. So to kill insects is to kill birds’ food supply.

Third, shun cypress mulch. A few bags of cypress mulch represent a cypress tree, downed and shredded. Cypress forests, already endangered habitat, provide homes to many threatened birds, including perhaps the last remaining ivory-billed woodpeckers. Instead, use hardwood mulch. Or, better yet, make your own, shredding autumn leaves. When leaf mulch decays, it enriches soil and furthers your efforts to produce effective vegetative habitat. Simultaneously, you keep tons of valuable soil enrichment out of landfills.
Fourth, keep cats indoors. Every year in the U.S. alone, cats kill an estimated 118 million birds. That’s huge. But let me be clear: Nobody loves cats more than we do. For over 40 years, we’ve had family-member cats. Jack and Jill, our current pampered pair, have never touched paw to ground. If they did, no matter how fat and spoiled they are, they would be killing machines.

Fifth, keep dead trees and snags
. Dead trees are nature’s grocery store, nursery, and cemetery. Their rotting produces food and desperately needed homes for woodpeckers, owls, wrens, bluebirds, hawks, and others. Of course a dead tree that threatens your or your neighbor’s house, must come down. Otherwise let it stand. In fact, a tree’s stately skeleton, silhouetted against the sky, can be a thing of beauty.

PictureSixth, reduce window collisions. With millions of homes and businesses across this nation, all with numerous windows, if only one bird fatally crashes into each window each year, that’s millions of dead birds. But here’s good news, especially for us who hate housework: Clean windows kill more birds than dirty ones. If you can’t stand dirt, or dirt doesn’t stop collisions, science says hang feathers outside your windows. Buy craft feathers at a hobby-supply place, tie them every 12 inches along a monofilament line the length of your window, placing a strand every foot or so across.

These six actions will save birds in your yard. And when everyone does a little bit, all the little bits add up to quite a difference. Please do your little bit—for the birds.

Fifth, keep dead trees and snags. Dead trees are nature’s grocery store, nursery, and cemetery. Their rotting produces food and desperately needed homes for woodpeckers, owls, wrens, bluebirds, hawks, and others. Of course a dead tree that threatens your or your neighbor’s house, must come down. Otherwise let it stand. In fact, a tree’s stately skeleton, silhouetted against the sky, can be a thing of beauty.

PictureSixth, reduce window collisions. With millions of homes and businesses across this nation, all with numerous windows, if only one bird fatally crashes into each window each year, that’s millions of dead birds. But here’s good news, especially for us who hate housework: Clean windows kill more birds than dirty ones. If you can’t stand dirt, or dirt doesn’t stop collisions, science says hang feathers outside your windows. Buy craft feathers at a hobby-supply place, tie them every 12 inches along a monofilament line the length of your window, placing a strand every foot or so across.

These six actions will save birds in your yard. And when everyone does a little bit, all the little bits add up to quite a difference. Please do your little bit—for the birds.

Birdhouse Primer

The housing market is nearing peak with “No Vacancy” signs rapidly replacing “For Rent” signs—at least in the avian world.

PictureAlready, Eastern Bluebirds have laid claim to preferred homes in the best neighborhoods. Within weeks, in spite of wintery remains, other birds will follow suit. Unfortunately, however, some may go homeless.

While only certain birds nest in cavities, demand for natural hollows far surpasses supply. Dead and dying trees, sites for most nest holes, fall victim to chainsaws. Wooden fence posts, their knotholes housing chickadees and bluebirds, long since gave way to steel.

While cavity supplies decline, demands increase. House Sparrows and European Starlings, introduced from Europe, nest in cavities. Their skyrocketing numbers further rob native birds of the few natural hollows remaining.

Too few houses for too many birds means some, left homeless, cannot breed. But you can help.

Some cavity nesters accept birdhouses that we build or buy. While offering homes for the homeless, we also gain the pleasure of birds’ presence as they built nests, lay eggs, and raise young in habitat from humanity.


But bird houses for birds differ dramatically from bird houses for people. Decorative and functional don’t usually equate, at least not from a bird’s eye view.

So while there’s more to providing birdhouses than “build it and they will come,” simple guidelines help you help birds: Build (or choose) a house that’s the right shape and right size, then mount it the right way in the right location and regularly maintain it. Here’s how

First, don’t build or buy a “catchall” birdhouse. Instead, choose to host a specific species. Each demands a certain size interior and, more importantly, a certain size entrance hole. And purple martin nest boxes must accommodate a colony of birds, not just a pair, and be mounted in clusters.Second, make choices for durability. Build with three-quarter inch cedar, redwood, or cypress, never treated lumber. Use rust-proof hinges and screws, preferable to nails that wiggle loose. A hinged side is essential for monitoring, cleaning, and maintenance.Third, ventilate with three-quarter inch holes, two on each side near the top. Ensure dry interior with quarter-inch holes, four in the bottom, and a roof overhanging the entrance hole to shelter against driving rain.  Never use perches. Never paint boxes.


Next, to mount the box, choose the right habitat for your chosen species, shade or sun, trees or meadow. Mount boxes solidly, on a wall, post, or tree. But never mount bluebird boxes on trees. And only wrens accept a hanging birdhouse.

Then, add a predator guard. Otherwise the nest box becomes a raccoon or snake lunchbox.

Finally, maintain the box. Check at least weekly. Expel House Sparrows and European Starlings, wasps and ants. After babies fledge, discard the nest. Some birds raise a second or third brood, often in the same (cleaned) box. Without maintenance, birdhouses become slums, death traps, or useless yard features—a waste of time, money, and effort


For most birds, nesting season peaks in early summer. 

Incredibly, bird nests look as different as the birds that build them. In fact, each species’ nest displays characteristics so distinctive that field guides readily detail location, materials, size, and construction.

Most of us likely first “saw” bird nests in children’s books. Those nests, invariably made of small twigs, sat straddle a branch about midway out from the trunk, and hosted happy bird families.

In reality, few nests straddle a branch. Even fewer sit midway out. And almost none are made entirely of small twigs.

PictureFor instance, Baltimore Orioles build miraculously woven six-inch long pouch-like nests suspended from the tip of a branch by a few long fibrous strands. White-eyed Vireos likewise build pendulous nests, suspended between two twigs near their fork, situated low, amid dense vegetation.

Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhees, and Song Sparrows situate their nests on or near the ground, protected only by stealth and dense undergrowth

Woodpeckers carve out tree cavities in which to raise their young, but they don’t build nests inside. And since woodpeckers use a cavity for only a single year, the following year may bring Wood Ducks, Great-Crested 
Flycatchers, Prothonotary Warblers, Tufted Titmice, or White-breasted Nuthatches to the ready-made cavities.Belted Kingfishers carve tunnels in mud banks, building their nests at the upper end. Swallow species stick mud-dab nests under eves of buildings or under bridges. Chimney Wwifts use their own saliva to glue nest materials inside chimneys. Killdeer lay eggs in a mere scrape on the ground.

PictureCarolina Wrens shape closed nests with a side entrance. Most flycatchers build cup-shaped nests in tree forks. Incubating Mourning Doves sit motionless, unblinking, on their flimsy collection of sticks, thus camouflaging nests.

Brown Creepers stuff their nests behind loose tree bark. American Goldfinches tuck their tiny cup nests in forks of shrubs, small trees, even sturdy weeds, cups so solidly compact that they feel wood-hard when tapped

 Owls never build nests, instead commandeering old hawk nests or natural tree cavities. Once I saw a Great-horned Owl nesting in a former Bald Eagle nest, nearly lost in the bulk. Osprey will accept man-made platforms over or near good fishing waters.

PictureNest materials differ, too.

Canada Geese pull surrounding vegetation toward themselves, forming a loose nest on the ground, and line it with their own downy feathers. Male House Wrens stuff every available cavity with twigs; then, females choose the best site which they then line with soft grasses. Carolina Wrens build cavity nests with grasses and dead leaves.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds assemble lichen-covered nests from dandelion and other plant down, fastening them with spider web to the limbs they straddle. Tree sap “glue” makes nests snug.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers employ a similar lichen-cover disguise and spider-web attachment technique.

Northern Cardinal and Brown Thrasher nests include shreds of bark from bald cypress or wild grape. Carolina Chickadees lay foundations of moss on which they construct neat cups of plant down, hair, and plant fibers.

While we glimpse something of birds’ personalities by the nests they make, we also recognize their amazing—if innate—skill in weaving secure cradles for their young. They do with bill and feet what we can’t begin to do with two hands and assorted tools—and an illustrated guide

Songs and Calls: Sounds of Love and War

PictureThe clock reads 5:35 AM. My wake-up call trills with robust enthusiasm two feet from the bedroom window. A House Wren, only recently returned from South America, has chosen for its own a nest-gourd hanging under the awning there.

Awake now, I recognize another dozen dawn choristers. Why are they singing? Why more in spring than in other seasons? And why do they sing with greater gusto at dawn than at any other time?
Here’s a clue: It has nothing to do with happiness. For birds, song is communication, and they talk only about two topics: love and war. At dawn, most females lay their egg of the day; and at dawn, sound travels well in the quiet. So, yes, it’s about love (meaning, in avian terms, reproduction) and war (staking out and maintaining territory). And part of love and war is staying in touch. In fact, the Red-eyed Vireo seems to say, “Here I am,” then ask, “Where are you?” Paired Canada Geese talk as they fly, her honking higher pitched than his, assuring each of the other’s well being.

Bird songs vary as much as birds themselves. Eastern Bluebirds burble soothing lullabies. Mourning Doves indeed coo mournfully. Eastern Screech-owls emit a quavering whistle that can strike fear among the brave. Yellow-breasted Chats jumble their song so much that I chuckle. Great-blue Herons squawk as annoyingly as fingernails on chalkboards. And Bald Eagles.

But birds have calls as well as songs—a chip, chirr, or chatter—also about love and war. Chips warn a nesting mate there’s trouble nearby or an intruder that he’s trespassed. Calls lure fledglings from nests. Sometimes calls rally other species, ganging up on predators like snakes, cats, or roosting owls.Picture

For me, though, song and call serve another purpose. They catch my attention, sometimes because I know—or because I don’t know—what I’ll enjoy seeing when I locate the source. Last night, out for our evening walk, I heard a Common Nighthawk. I doubt I would have looked straight overhead without his prompting me of his presence

Sometimes, however, finding the source drives me silly. At every opportunity, I listen and look for a Kentucky Warbler. When I hear him, I eye the undergrowth, straining for a glimpse of this stealthy woodland bird. Sometimes I actually track the sound to a bird, only to find not the warbler, but a Carolina Wren whose call closely resembles that of the warbler.

So it goes with some bird songs. Scarlet Tanagers are said to sing like American Robins with a sore throat; Summer Tanagers, like robins that had voice lessons. Hm? On the other hand, a Wood Thrush sings an unmistakable flute-like duet with itself, the Chopin of avian choristers.

How do we learn who sings what? For years, we could only listen, then track the source, one bird at a time. Now, phone apps include bird songs that allow us to listen repeatedly, anytime, anyplace. Or online at Cornell University’s Lab or Ornithology site, where we can search for a species to learn its song

Nests in the Yard

A quick survey of our immediate neighborhood tallied 51 species breeding here. Did I see 51 nests? Oh my, no. Did I see most of them? Not in my wildest dreams. So how do I know they nested? Four clues:

First, we saw courting behavior: male Northern Cardinals offering bill-to-bill gifts of sunflower seeds to flirting mates; Eastern Bluebird pairs ducking in and out of nest boxes, comparing the merits of one location over another; a male Wood Duck swimming nervously around a female, awaiting her decision; and Red-shouldered Hawks copulating.

PictureSometimes we saw bird pairs, not courting, but their breeding-season togetherness pointing to their family ways: Eastern Towhees, he in black and rust, she in brown and rust; Brown Thrashers, he and she nearly indistinguishable but together; Indigo Buntings, he in brilliant blue, she in plain-Jane brown. The extended family of seven American Crows, the young from last year and the previous year helping Mom and Dad with this year’s brood, pointed to another nesting species.

PictureSecond, we saw birds carrying nest materials—sticks, grasses, last year’s leaves, bits of string, gobs of mud. Baltimore Orioles nearly tipped over backward yanking shreds from the wisteria vine. Carolina Wrens scooped up bills full of shredded leaf mulch, filling their bills so full they surely couldn’t see to fly. Carolina Chickadees tugged tufts of moss from the ground where it grows on the north side of the shed. House Wrens executed contortions to stuff eight-inch twigs into one-and-a-half-inch holes in a gourd.

Third, we observed territorial behavior. Northern Mockingbirds chased and fussed. Great-crested Flycatchers called from a chosen tree cavity. Red-winged Blackbirds dive-bombed the Red-shouldered Hawk as she hunted too close to their territory. The Summer Tanager sang from treetops around his territory’s perimeter, drawing an audio map. 

PictureBirds singing during breeding season are either defending territory or advertising for mates. But sometimes songs are more easily heard than secretive birds are to see, like Northern Parula, Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Wood-pewee, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Wood Thrush, the songster with the most beautiful avian aria. Lately, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, awaiting caterpillar hatches before they begin nesting, registered their territorial boundaries with their resonating “cloak-cloak-cloak.

Fourth, we watched breeding pairs feed their young. Tree Swallows fed young in the nest and fed fledglings on the wing (a spectacle to watch); woodpeckers—Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers—brought their youngsters to suet feeders; a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches showed three babies how to snap up sunflower-seed snacks; Chipping Sparrows taught their family birdbath-splashing techniques.


Bluebird Nest Boxes
In the late 1800s, European Starlings and House Sparrows were introduced from Europe to the U. S. Both species aggressively competed with Eastern Bluebirds for nest cavities; and by the late 1880s, bluebird populations plummeted. Since the late 1960s, thanks in large part to bluebird enthusiasts who mount and monitor nest boxes, the populations have slowly increased.
Long-time bluebird hosts have gained some school-of-hard-knocks knowledge about bluebird nest-cavity success:Picture

  • Use sturdy, well-built nest boxes, preferably of cedar (for durability), easily opened (for monitoring and maintenance), with a 1 ½” hole, unpainted, minus perches. (For nest box specifications and building plans, see the North American Bluebird Society Web site, here.) 
  • For nest box sites, choose rural, open grassland with nearby high perches, like utility wires.
  • Choose locations void of large house-sparrow populations.
  • Mount boxes on poles, not on trees or fence posts (which serve as ladders for predators), with openings facing southeastward.
  • Mow area near boxes. Bluebirds abandon boxes in high weeds.
  • Mount multiple boxes at least 75 yards apart.
  • Use predator guards, either structures or greased poles, to avoid creating snake/raccoon lunch boxes.
  • Monitor boxes weekly, eliminating house-sparrow nests, ants, wasps, and vacated nests.
  • Leave boxes up year around. Bluebirds travel south only if forced by inclement weather or food shortages. So if berry crops—sumac, poison ivy, dogwood, bittersweet, red cedar, hollies, pokeberry—and the weather hold, bluebirds winter over and use nest boxes as winter roosts.

Hats off to dedicated folks who have brought bluebirds back from the realm of the threatened.


PictureWays with Winter Water

Birds need water year-round for drinking and bathing. Consider these hints for your winter backyard water source:

·  Offer shallow water, no more than an inch deep.
·  Use a commercial birdbath or shallow container, like a garbage-can lid, set solidly on the ground.
·  Add rocks or gravel to make a too-deep container suitable for small birds.
·  Add a bubbler or dripper. Moving water attracts more birds than does still water.

·  To prevent freezing, add a heat source plugged into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet.
·  To save energy, choose a thermostatically controlled heat source that shuts off on warm days.
·  Place water within 10 to 15 feet of cover so that wet birds can fly quickly to safety to preen.
·  Keep water fresh, free of leaves, seeds, bird droppings, or other contaminants.


It takes water. Moving water.
Moving water. That’s the magnet that draws migrants, especially warblers, to the yard.  That’s the magnet that beckons them down from where they forage in the treetops. That’s the magnet that pulls them within view of the kitchen window. What better way to see these tropical lovelies passing through!

Most autumn migrants feed on bugs and berries. Given that diet, very few visit seed feeders. Other than an occasional Rose-breasted Grosbeak checking out black-oil sunflower seeds, feeders hold little attraction for migrating birds.

But water! Every bird wants a drink. Almost every bird wants a bath. They’ve been on the wing for weeks, having left Canada’s boreal forest after breeding season ended. Now they need to rest, refuel, and rehydrate. And clean up a bit. That takes water.

Like most folks, we started out in our yard with a traditional pedestal-mounted birdbath. Then we removed the pedestal, situating the bath on the ground. After all, we reasoned, we’ve never seen a natural water supply three feet above ground.


Later we added moving water. A little yard pond, about eight feet by ten feet at its widest, includes a tiny “waterfall” that drops about six inches and gurgles along a one-inch deep “creek” before flowing back into the pool holding the recycling pump.

Unless you’re hoping to attract hawks and herons, though, everything about water for birds must be shallow. Very shallow. Warblers, for instance, may be only four inches long, beak to tail, and stand only three inches tall. Water less than an inch deep lets them stand, drink, bathe, but not drown.

This week, however, we’ve watched an assortment of winged wonders at our compact little homemade bubbling rock. We created the “bubble” part by drilling a hole through the high point of an irregularly surfaced rock, inserting a tube through the hole, and attaching the tube to a fountain pump. The pump is adjusted to bubble, not spout. So water gurgles up about an inch, spills across the irregular surface of the rock forming tiny “pools,” and spills back into the reservoir underneath.

The little skim of water, the half-inch deep pools, and the spill over the rock’s edge give little birds safe drinking and bathing.

Above all, though, it’s the gurgle, the splash, the sound that provides the magical magnetic pull. Still water, especially atop an unnatural pedestal, may serve year-round residents who have had the leisure of getting to know that odd water source. But migrants don’t have that leisure. They may stay no more than 24 hours, so the musical sound of naturally moving water welcomes them.

And for these long-distance travelers, what a welcome it must be. Aside from the usual array of American Goldfinches, Carolina or Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Mourning Doves, White-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Cardinals, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the bubbling rock, we’ve had an eye-catching parade of creatures that made me ooooh and aaaaah—and utter an occasional exclamation.

Among those sipping and splashing: Black-throated Green Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Fat for Warmth

Most birds survive our brutal winter weather. But how?

On bitterly windy days, birds tuck in behind evergreen foliage, buildings, or whatever other windbreak they find. Even out of the wind, though, it’s no tropical paradise.

Many birds increase their number of feathers in fall, shedding some come spring. But the minimal increase still won’t fully insulate their tiny bodies.
At night, birds face the greatest challenges. Some, like Carolina or Black-capped Chickadees, lower their nighttime body temperature to conserve energy. But like all birds, they need a secure roost, out of the wind, protected from predators. 

What ultimately gets them through? One word: fat. If they’ve had enough fat calories during the day to last them through the night, if they can find enough fat calories at dawn to replenish their depleted reserves, and if they can find enough fat calories to gain enough reserves to last through the next night, they’ll survive another day.

And where do they find all this fat? In seeds, dormant bugs, insect eggs and larvae—and lots of them. In summer, chickadees, for instance, need the equivalent of 150 seeds a day to stay alive. In winter, however, those same birds need 250 to 300 seeds a day—60 percent of their body weight—to survive severely cold nights.

For birds, winter survival is a frantic daylight-to-dawn search-and-feed operation—every minute, every day. Their search includes, but is not limited to, your feeders. So you’ll help most if you’re offering high-fat foods, the highest being black-oil sunflower seed (especially sunflower hearts), peanut kernels, and pure suet.

To follow yesteryear’s habit of throwing out stale bread and cookies, popcorn, and other human prepared foodstuffs probably hurts birds more than helps them. They gobble up the offerings, of course, and fill their tummies. But the food value—the fat content—is absent. Worse yet, they’re getting refined ingredients, salt, sugar, and additives that, to their tiny bodies, is not at all helpful.