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Winter Bird Feeding with John Fitzpatrick

The Martha Stewart Show, January 2008

Attracting birds to your backyard is a great way to brighten up the gray days of winter. By providing food, water, and shelter, you should have plenty of luck attracting birds to your home this winter.

Bird Seed
In the spring and summer, birds' natural diet includes insects and spiders; during fall and winter, birds rely on fruit and seeds to survive. Keep beautiful birds coming to your backyard all winter by providing them with the following seeds. And remember: Water is always a great attraction for birds in both winter and summer. To keep it from freezing, place a plugged-in low-temperature heater near your water supply. To insure your bird bath is used often, place it near shrubby vegetation so that birds feel safe when visiting the water.

Sunflower Seeds
Used in a feeder, sunflower seeds attract the largest number of bird species. Sunflower seeds attract the black-capped chickadee, white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches, blue jay, cardinal, house finch, purple finch, and evening grosbeak in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada.

Millet should be scattered on the ground. It attracts the dark-eyed junco, American tree sparrow, white-throated sparrow, and mourning doves.

Thistle Seed
Thistle seed should be placed in a specialized feeder with tiny holes in it. It attracts the American goldfinch, pine siskin, and common redpoll, among others.

Safflower Seed
Safflower seed should be used in a feeder. It attracts a large number of finches.

Cracked Corn
Cracked corn should be scattered on the ground. It is especially good for attracting mourning doves and wild turkeys.

Trees and Shrubs
Various trees and shrubs can provide covering and nesting opportunities that will also help to entice birds to your backyard.

Blue Spruce
Blue spruce is great for cover; it provides a place for birds to hide during cold and windy days, offering protection and shelter from both weather and predators.

In the northeast, the winterberry is the hardiest species of the holly group. Covered in red fruits during fall and early winter, its red fruits are a favorite of birds including cedar waxwings, American robins, and northern mockingbirds. At least 12 species eat the fruit of the American holly, a small tree or shrub that can be grown as a hedge where it provides excellent cover and nesting sites. Yaupon holly is an evergreen shrub option ideal for the southeast.

Crabapple Trees
Using the smallest-fruiting crabapples will attract birds including the cedar waxwing, American robin, eastern bluebird, and wild turkey.

Special Thanks
Thanks to Dr. John Fitzpatrick of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for providing this information, along with instructions for making Suet Bird Feeders. Special thanks to DK Publishing and Wild Birds Unlimited for giving copies of the "Audubon Backyard Birdwatch" and a gift bag, respectively, to our studio audience.

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