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Feeding South Dakota Birds in the Winter

Bird in Winter
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SIOUX FALLS – Our feathered friends can use a hand when it’s cold and snowy. Experts at The Outdoor Campus remind us that when the ground is covered with snow, birds have more difficulty finding food.

Thea Ryan, Executive Director of The Outdoor Campus suggests providing a higher quality bird seed in the winter. Look at the ingredients on the bag of bird seed. Some feeds are made mostly of millet but that’s a filler food, it’s not the most nutritious. “The snow will cover up the seeds that they find on the ground, normally.” Ryan said what the birds really need this time of year is suet and fresh water. Suet is high in fat.

Ryan said the Outdoor Campus feed their birds on a needs basis, about every other day.

“Don’t get a feeder so big because the food will rot or freeze before they eat it all. Get a medium or small feeder,” Ryan said.

According to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks if you’re only offering one menu item, black oil sunflower seed appeals to many birds including Chickadees and Cardinals. Ground-feeding birds may prefer corn, milo or millet to sunflower seed.

Avoid offering human “table scraps,” which may attract rodents or raccoons.
Different types of feeds attract different types of birds. Thistle seed or niger seed is a favorite of the Gold and Red finches.  This time of year the gold finches are an olive color but the males are beginning to change.

The redpoll is a bird that is not normally a native South Dakotan but bird watchers are seeing more and more of them in this area.  They are usually further north. They also like to eat thistle seed.

Bird watcher, Michelle Olari makes her own suet. “In the winter I feed a lot of suet made of fat and peanut butter.  It’s very nutritional for them in the cold weather.”
Make sure there’s lots of water because they need it more. Olari has heaters on her bird baths so the water never freezes.

Olari makes a point of checking her bird feeders twice a day. She also keeps all the trays free of snow. “I have 4 different breeds of woodpeckers in the winter, blue jays, redpolls, juncos, house sparrows, gold and red finches.”  She notes that the gold finches are nicer than the reds. “While the red finches push each other out of the way, 16 gold finches will share from the same feeder.”

Olari says bird watching is a daily routine.

“It’s very relaxing. I’m a naturalist. I believe in nature. Every morning I drink my coffee and watch the birds out the dining room window.”

Homeowners can also help birds by creating cover. Bushes and trees create habitat that protects the birds all winter.

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