In The Garden: Winter Pleasures Birds Can Be Picky About Their Food

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In The Garden: Winter Pleasures Birds Can Be Picky About Their Food

Birds can be picky about their food – even in foul weather

There are few things that delight me more than watching the birds in my yard during the winter months. At this time of the year, I’m so grateful that I resisted the temptation to cut down the ornamental grasses in the fall, as the birds so enjoy the seed heads.

My suet cage is always emptied. While I keep it full year-round, the Downy woodpeckers love to hack away at it in the winter, as they do their best to accumulate fat and carbohydrates to keep warm. If you have problems with unwanted birds raiding your suet cakes, try using an upside-down suet cage. Woodpeckers love to feed on their backs, unlike ‘bully birds’ like the Grackles and Blue Jays.


Especially if there’s a snow fall, keep your bird feeder full throughout the winter. Hungry birds have fewer options for food sources. Many birds will kick out the corn in search of their favourite seeds, like high quality millet, black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts. Birdseed producers love to load up their mixes with cracked corn as it attracts the bird feeding public, and it’s cheap.

Like lawn fertilizer, you get what you pay for with birdseed. There are some good quality mixes around for an attractive price, but take a good look at the mix before you make your purchase.


I like to put out a peanut feeder – the kind that takes shelled peanuts. These tend to attract the Blue Jays and the woodpeckers. When the Downys frequent the yard, they add their own characteristics like their distinct colouring and squeaks – that’s right, they don’t chirp, they squeak.

As for the Blue Jays, they are often in search of the whole peanut – for bird consumption, make sure they’re not salted. No sooner do I place some on the platform outside the kitchen window, then one giant Blue Jay announces to the others that they’ve arrived. The neighbouring jays arrive in droves, swooping and squawking at each other, taking their turn at the feeding platform until they’re all gone. They remove each peanut and take it to the high branches of a tree and peck out the good stu , and then drop the shell to the ground with a perfect little hole in it. Then they take the peanut meat and jam it between the branches of trees all over the neighbourhood for later consumption. I am told, on good authority, that this sustains them through the cold and the now.

Personally, I don’t like Blue Jays well enough to feed them peanuts all of the time. They’re big, and they’re bossy. I often wait until we’re expecting company, and then I’ll put out some peanuts, and without exception, visitors comment on the busy Blue Jay population in our yard.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @MarkCullen4.


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