Brrrrr! Birds!

Cold weather is upon us and, with it, birds that ride it out on the Front Range or mountain birds coming down for a visit. Want to put out the welcome mat in your own backyard? Here's what to know.

Authored by Erin Malcolm

Black-capped chickadee
Courtesy iStockPhoto

The bird breakdown

Mountain birds you might see in your backyard this winter: the Townsend’s solitaire, red-breasted nuthatch, cedar waxwing, American tree sparrow, and Gambel’s white-crowned sparrow (the latter two migrate latitudinally from Canada and Alaska, respectively). Blue jays, house finches, downy woodpeckers, and black-capped chickadees are a few of the many that stay in Colorado year-round.

Feeding time

The most common bird feed is a variation of seeds, including sunflower, thistle (or nyjer), safflower, flax, millet, corn, wheat, and milo. Pro tip: Squirrels are less partial to thistles than other seeds, so stocking your feeders with these may help keep them away. For something more natural, try maintaining the native and non-native plants in your backyard. Juniper trees and honeysuckle tangle, for example, are more valuable to backyard birds than store-bought seed mixes, says Ted Floyd, editor of Birding magazine. A bird aficionado who lives in Boulder and also writes for the American Bird Association’s blog, Floyd says that Juniper trees are abundant with berries and provide birds a nice shelter in which to roost.

Blue Jay
Courtesy iStockPhoto

Shoo the squirrels

Place a squirrel baffle—a plastic dome—under the feeder to make the fight for food harder for the upwardly mobile mammals. These domes curve downward and away from the feeder, acting as a barrier to climbing. “It’s a constant battle with squirrels,” says Floyd. “They’re native and they’re hungry too.” You can try to divert them by using certain feeders so the hungry critters can’t climb up, “but if they’re hungry enough, they’ll find a way,” he says.

- Advertisement -
Downy woodpecker
Courtesy iStockPhoto

Too few…or too many

If you’re having trouble attracting feathers, Floyd suggests scattering seeds on the ground below the feeder to draw attention and eventually direct the birds to your additional offerings up higher. And cat owners— keep your felines indoors. Birds have acute senses and will notice and be deterred if there is a whiskered predator roaming the property. If you’re experiencing quite the opposite problem and large flocks of birds are congregating at your feeder, don’t be surprised if it turns into a “birds hunting birds” scenario, says Mike Wunder, associate professor in integrative biology at the University of Colorado Denver. The accipiter and Cooper hawk are the most common around the Front Range, he says, and they may be attracted to flocks of smaller, less dominant birds.