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Survivor: A Winter Day In The Life Of a Wild Bird

Updated on November 2, 2015

Backyard Birds Need Help in Winter

Feed the Birds- Feel Good About Life

Being a bird and surviving the hardships that Nature throws at them every day is an amazing story. Even the tiniest of creatures have a strong will to survive. It is all part of an epic story that bears telling. Faced with the cruel obstacles like the forces of nature, predators and the constant need for food and water, lives go on, But as any wild bird might tell you: "it ain't easy being me."

A bird's survival depends on its ability to find a constant food source, particularly in the winter months. The greater part of every bird's day is spent finding enough food to sustain him. The energy derived from high value food fuels the creature's energy field and allows it to generate enough energy to survive another day. How basic is that?

If there is a sufficient supply of wild seeds and other natural energy resources left in the fields, trees, gardens and lawns, a bird's chances of survival are quite good. The longer the winter and the amount of food left after a couple months of foraging in the wild will determine the bird’s odds of survival.

Here is where the problems arise. In winter: daylight hours are reduced from about 16+ hours in mid summer to 9 or 10 during the winter months. That means that the time a bird has to locate a food supply is reduced dramatically .

If that food source is a distance away from the bird’s roosting site, he will be unable to get back to his safe haven before darkness takes over. The possibility that he may freeze to death is greater. If we set up feeding stations, we can contribute considerably to that survival rate.

Like all mammals, furred or feathered, all creatures including wild birds need water. Freezing temperatures threaten water supplies. Some well-intentioned folks believe that a bird can do well on melted ice or snow. The truth is that the energy expended in the melting process can leave the birds open to hypothermia. Conclusion: depending on melted ice and snow is not the best option. Better alternatives lie with birdbath deicers and similar heated or insulated water products.

Birds require shelter to protect themselves from icy winds, sleet and snow. Birds do not live in birdhouses. In some situations mixed flocks might gather in nesting boxes where they huddle together and keep warm by shivering together and creating a warmer environment, but that shivering requires food which provides the energy.

Spending an evening out in the open is not recommended for man or beast in winter, Wild birds often assemble in thickets, wood piles and areas where branches and tree cutting are piled with the intent that they provide a winter shelter or barrier for the winter month. Those piles of wood cuttings etc. will also shelter smaller critters like field mice, rabbits, foxes, woodchucks and chipmunks.

You can provide your own backyard refuge by gathering your pruning and garden leftovers in a quiet corner of your backyard. The opportunities are much better on larger suburban and country lots or acreage, but even a small city lot can offer some shelter. Think of it as one bird at a time approach as opposed to saving entire flocks.

Food and Beverage

Most of us are somewhat knowledgeable about bird feeding. This is one of our country’s most favorite hobbies and pastimes. In winter, it becomes a mission of mercy that will not only help birds survive, it is guaranteed to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling whenever you watch birds flood to your feeders.

Any food offering will be appreciated, but there are ways to maximize the process and offer even more benefits.


Invest in good quality bird seed, A blend that is heavy with sunflower seed is the best way to attract birds and give them the energy and nutrients that will keep them alive. The best place to buy high quality seed is at the specialty bird stores that are located all through the country.

Don’t be fooled by cheap bird seed filled with grains and milo that gets tossed out of the feeders. It’s waste of money and you will not attract the birds you like most. Feed your birds blends heavy with oil and striped sunflower seed, a small amount of white millet, not milo and you will have your bases covered and your feeders filled with birds. If you prefer, you can feed oil sunflower seed only, but some of the smaller birds have a tough time cracking the shells.

When you visit a specialty bird store, the employees are knowledgeable professionals who are well trained. They are able to tell you what kinds of feeders you should consider for the different species you will run into or vice versa. There are some birds like doves and cardinals that prefer to feed on the ground or from platform feeders that help keep things neater.

Finches and chickadees prefer tube feeders, which incidentally can be made more attractive to more species with the addition of a tray attached to the feeder. Woodpeckers love suet cakes that are serves up in special caged suet holders. It’s not rocket science, but a few minutes with a trained wild bird specialist will result in much more excitement at our feeding stations. That is the kind of expertise you can expect from a specialist versus the opinions offered at the local hardware store.

With our years of accumulated knowledge, we know how importance water is in winter. It freezes but here is a solution that works. Insert a bird bath water heater into the birdbath and it will keep the water unfrozen and available all year long. They don’t cost much to buy nor to operate and they will keep a water source available for your backyard birds.

Note. Some people think that because birds are wild they can drink filthy, poop and debris filled water. Wrong. Would you give your animal toilet bowl water? No, of course not

The Author

Kramar founded and operated a group of wild bird and nature stores in Michigan, Ohio and New York State under the name Backyard Birds, and other names. He has over 20 years of experience in the care and feeding of these creatures. He retired from the business in 2007


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    • Kramar profile image

      Snarky Babbler 2 years ago from USA

      Just because they are small doesn't mean they are not important.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Very nicely done, and welcome to the world of protecting animals and wildlife. Thanks for helping them!