Ice-free birdbaths important in mild winters too

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Although much of the late fall and early winter has been mild, the nights have been cold, below freezing, and we've seen little precipitation. As a result, birds don't have much to drink. Birds need to drink water every day, and bathing helps to keep them warm. A clean bird is a warm bird. Clean feathers offer better insulation than dirty feathers.

Often, birds drink at daybreak, so if you typically put water out for the birds after sunrise, then you've probably missed some of your thirstiest visitors. Adding a deicer to your birdbath insures ice-free water for your birds all the time.

Since open water is such a magnet, especially in such a dry period, your birdbath may encourage unusual visitors. Robins and bluebirds are common at winter baths, and flickers and other woodpeckers often make an appearance, too.

The variety of birds has been diverse this fall and winter. American goldfinches often visit Santa Fe in the winter, and this year has been no exception. Some of you are also seeing lesser goldfinches, and flocks of pine siskins have been spotted. Look for these three finches at your thistle feeder and birdbath.

Cedar waxwings are stunning birds and a winter bath is the perfect place to spot them. These waxwings don't eat at bird feeders but are often seen in flocks eating leftover berries from junipers, hawthorne, pyracantha, and other berry-producing trees and shrubs. Steller's jays, Woodhouse's scrub-jays and other large birds, such as curve-billed thrashers, also visit birdbaths. Even hawks sometimes settle in at a bath to survey the hunting landscape.

Although not very common at baths, some folks are reporting brown creepers, ruby-crowned kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers at feeders, especially where suet or bark butter, spreadable suet, is offered.

High-fat foods like suet and bark butter attract more birds and give a high-fat, high-protein shot for your winter visitors. Not only do creepers, kinglets, and warblers like suet, but bushtits, woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees are frequent suet eaters, too.

Adding suet nuggets to your seed blend adds more calories and feeding a blend with plenty of black-oil sunflower, sunflower chips and nuts provides what your birds need this winter. A little white millet will keep ground-feeding birds such as juncos and towhees happy.

High-calorie seed or suet cylinders are long-lasting and offer easy-to-eat, high-fat food for all of our winter birds. Since they take longer to eat than does seed in a small feeder, seed cylinders require fewer trips outside to reload your bird food.

Studies show that a constant and reliable source of supplemental food helps to improve the overall health and body condition of wild birds. In order to meet your birds' needs this winter, have at least one foundational feeder that dependably provides food and does not have to be filled very often. Help your birds know your food is worth the wait and keep it full.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard and Birdhouses of the World. This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News.

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