Stephen Lyn Bales, Ijams Naturalist and Songbird Expert

Are songbirds any better prepared than we are for unexpected cold snaps?

Only that they're dressed in feathers. They're able to puff up and trap air between layers, almost like down vests.

Should you feed birds more in a cold snap?

Certainly if you're not feeding them at all, you should start during this time, keeping several feeders full of sunflower seeds, or suet cakes, which you can buy or make yourself.

By melting beef fat?

Yes, or melt lard, and mix that with peanut butter and oats and seeds—good Southern cooking, start by melting lard. Pour it into plastic tubs, about an inch, pop it in the fridge and when it hardens pop it out and put it in a suet cake holder. It attracts a lot of birds you don't typically see, like woodpeckers—to them, it's a lot like melted bugs.

What about water?

Water is almost more important than food this time of year because it's frozen, everywhere. I have a plug-in feeder that keeps the water just warm enough not to freeze; places that specialize in bird supplies sell heaters that go into bird baths. You can also help by providing shelter. In a corner of your property create a brush pile; they'll work their way in and buddy up and stay warm.

What's the coolest bird you've seen recently?

A winter wren, which migrates here only in the winter. It's teeny, about half the size of a Carolina wren, and it hops on the ground. When you first notice the movement you almost think it's a mouse.

What's the best budget bird food?

Sunflower seeds. Don't waste money on the cheap bag with the milo filler; it's probably 50 percent waste. Also, you can toast stale bread, spread peanut butter on it and put that out for the birds.

They don't care if it's cheap?

No, birds are not brand conscious.

For more information: stephenlynbales.blogspot.com


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