As the Winter Solstice approaches, the chances that cold weather will strike, even here in Florida, are increasing. Our Wild Bird populations typically count on their native habitats to provide food for the Winter – and increased fat and protein intake is essential for keeping birds warm.
But as their native habitats are being given over to development, and developed land is being wiped clean of their natural food sources (berries, insects, etc.), it’s a good idea to give wild birds a little helping hand, especially if you enjoy bird watching.
Today I’ll give you my Top 3 Tips for Feeding Wild Birds in Winter. Think of it as a holiday gift for your feathered friends.
Tip #1: Increase the number of wild bird feeders (and your stock of wild bird food)
Wild Birds needs MORE food to keep warm on cold days. They stay warm by retaining their body heat within their fluffed feathers. They generate body heat through movement, shivering (quick flexing & relaxing of muscles over and over again), and increasing their heart rate.
Birds burn fat and protein for warmth.
This activity of warming themselves burns more fat and uses up a lot of protein to keep them at optimal temperature, so having extra fat and protein calories available from you is super helpful to wild birds on those cold days.
One way to give them more food is to position more feeders in your yard. Add a few larger feeders this time of year so that you don’t have to refill as often.
Can birds survive without your help? Sure. Nature finds a way. But the benefits of feeding wild birds aren’t just for them, they’re for you too! The joy of watching these small creatures is immense – and better than television!
There’s even a workshop this Saturday 12/14/19 from 9a-1p to decorate your own, and learn about what birds like which seeds too! Link below in the text.
Attend our Holiday Maker’s Workshop this Saturday, December 14th, from 9a-1p (come any time during that time) to Decorate a Bird Feeder. See more details here. We’ll be showcasing our feeders and wild bird homes too, and letting you know about our Bulk Seed Weigh Station, where you can learn about making custom seed blends for your backyard critters!
Tip #2: Use Suet & All-Natural Peanut Butter as Wild Bird Supplements
Suet – a natural fat source
Adding more seed is great for wild birds, but during the coldest days of the year, additional fat is definitely helpful. Using suet – which is like lard, the remnants of beef fat after processing – and all natural peanut butter (NO ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS OR HONEY! TOXIC TO BIRDS!) is a great way to add extra fat to your feathered friends’ diets.
Commercial suet is the safest form of suet – it contains the proper ingredients to keep it from turning into a liquid a higher temperatures.
In a state where the temperature can fluctuate nearly 60 degrees in a day (from freezing to the 80s isn’t uncommon, right?) commercially-produced suet blocks are the best bet. And here’s a cage to put it in.
Peanut Butter, Fat & Protein Source
For peanut butter, you can use things like pine cones to load up with a peanut butter and seed mix to place out into the yard – they’re easy to hang on tree limbs or from other feeders. There’s lots of recipes for peanut butter bird mixes online and ways to present them to the birds too.
A couple of other fun DIY ideas:
Take an apple, cut it in half, scoop out the core, and fill with peanut butter and seed mix. Some birds really like fruit so nothing goes to waste! Place on a flat surface for birds to enjoy. Or, you can use the stem to hang it, or use a stainless steel screw and screw it in (it can be used again in the future!)
Another idea: Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll to coat with peanut butter, then roll it through a seed mixture. The more peanut butter you have on there the more seeds will stick to it. Then string a string through the tube and hang!
Use a jar or tin can or an old coffee cup to make different variations of bird seed feeders!
Tip #3: Wild Birds Need Consistent Access to Clean Water
Seems counter-intuitive to us, since we don’t typically bathe outside when it’s cold out, but birds require access to clean water on a consistent basis, not just for drinking, but for bathing too.
Regular bathing keeps their feathers working properly, allows them to fluff and retain the heat that they generate to keep warm. If their feathers are not clean and fluffy, this doesn’t work.
Luckily for us here in Florida, we don’t usually get enough long cold freezes to ice over a bird bath or pond for long periods of time. But, you will need to still keep the water clean and debris-free during the winter so that your birdie friends can come take a sip, or a nice bath, whenever they need it.
Those are my Top 3 Tips for Feeding Wild Birds in Winter! I hope this was helpful to you.
We want you to share the love of bird watching with us! It could easily become your newest favorite past time.
We here at Shell’s have an extensive variety of seeds for your bird friends as well as different kinds of feeders for you to present that seed mix.
As today is Thanksgiving, we focus on what we are grateful for.
If you were to ask me my favorite part of our business, without hesitation I would say it’s getting to interact with our local community in a real grass-roots kind of way.
Today’s blog happens to fall on Thanksgiving – and so I wanted to take the opportunity to express the gratitude of Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply on behalf of our staff family (because really, we are a family too).
Being Grateful is Uplifting
I hope you’ve seen our #21DaysOfGratitude Challenge that we’ve been doing since November 8 – 21 days to get into the habit of being grateful for what we have. It’s something I started last year, and wanted to continue. I never want to forget to take a moment to be appreciative, and that’s what this article is about today – We at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply are grateful for YOU, our customers.
We are a local family-owned business that has been around nearly 60 years – no small feat when you really think about it – and we attribute our success to the service we provide to our customers.
But without customers to service – we wouldn’t be here at all.
We are grateful you support local businesses
So, every time you come in and purchase something at Shell’s, you are supporting a local family business, all the families of the people we employ, AND keeping your money local (like your tax dollars) so that you support your community, just by shopping with us. We think that’s important.
We also realize how important having you walk through OUR doors really is, and that is why we work so hard to make it a pleasant experience, each and every time. You chose us, and we don’t take that lightly.
From picking up some food for your dog, taking care of a pesky pest problem, to bringing home a new flock of chickens, we’ll make sure you have everything you need to accomplish your goals. If there’s something we don’t carry, we don’t mind referring you to our neighbors for certain things, as our neighbors send us people when they don’t have something you need.
We are grateful for the opportunity to help you problem-solve
We take the time to learn about what you’re trying to do, if you’re willing to share it with us. If there’s other products that might do it better, we’ll tell you. If you’re wanting to use something that won’t do what you are wanting it to do, we’ll tell you. And if you have a handful of things you bring to the register to fix a problem and you only really need one of them, we’ll tell you.
Why do we take the time to do that? Because we’re here to help. We want you to remember us the next time you need help with something, and come back. More importantly we want you to tell all your friends and family about us so they will come see us too.
See, that’s why YOU are so important to us. We want to help you accomplish what you need to get done as simply as possible, so that you’ll tell others that you had a great experience.
We are grateful for our longevity in the community
We are so much more than a farm feed store, which was our humble beginnings nearly 60 years ago. Garden supplies are huge source of enjoyment for us, especially live plants, the Earthbox line, and growing soils like Happy Frog Potting Soil (it’s so awesome).
Our variety of pet supplies is pretty massive, too, not just the supplies for dogs and cats but all the exotics (like chinchillas, sugar gliders), rodents (like hamsters, guinea pigs), birds (like finches, parrots), wild birds, even some fish and reptile supplies too.
And don’t forget that we have live chickens and rabbits, and stuff for farm animals. We love it when people bring their kids to see the fuzzy wiggle nosed bunnies and the fluffy little peepers.
We are grateful for your friendship & patronage
We appreciate it when you stop in for supplies, or just to say hello to our friendly staff. We love it when you trust us for our knowledge to help you out, and we love being able to help you out to your car with your heavy items. It’s what we do, because we are thankful that you chose us. Carrying a heavy load to your car is the least we can do.
So, while we are closed today, Thanksgiving Day, so that we can be with our families – and we hope you are with yours too – we’ll be here for you when you’re ready to come in for your next dog food order, bale of hay, some veggie plants, or that one thing you need that no one else carries.
We are grateful for your support
We are truly grateful for you. Because of you we can continue to serve this community, and Tampa Bay at large. And that’s just the way we like it.
If you’re thankful for us too, please pay us the greatest compliment by telling the people you know about us. Your referral is the best gift we can ever receive from our customers. For those of you who already do that – thank you.
Raising chickens is one of the main ways that we produce food for ourselves. But chickens don’t just have to be a means to nourish our bodies. The fact is that chickens are intelligent, very social birds with individual distinct personalities. They act just as any other pet would – you can train them to come when you call, they like to snuggle, they are silly and like to play. Chickens are also a great way to teach children how to care for animals and how to grow their own food, so they can learn where their food comes from and gain a deeper sense of connection to the world around them.
Fun Fact #1: Chickens are the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Yep, you read that right. It’s not iguanas, or anole lizards…it’s chickens. Modern-day birds evolved from dinosaurs, as one of the cross-over species, the flying reptile with feathers called the Archaeopteryx, shows us. Additionally, some new fossils out of China show definite dinosaur skeletons with feather plumage!
There are LOTS of articles about the comparison of some collagen protein found preserved inside the femur of a 68-million-year-old T. Rex skeleton in Montana and several modern animal species which asserts that Chickens and Ostriches are the closest living relatives to this class of dinosaur. There is also some similarities with Alligator proteins (not surprising…as they are another class of dinosaur themselves!). Read that article here if you like.
Want to know more? Here’s an interesting article from Scientific American about the evolution of Therapods (the group of dinosaurs that include the Velociraptor and T. Rex) into birds which tells you more, if you’re interested. Of course, science is always making new discoveries, and there’s still a LOT of gaps to fill before we have the full story. Isn’t science fascinating?
Fun Fact #2: There are smaller versions of most chicken breeds called Bantams.
You may have heard the word “Bantam chicken” tossed about in your research of chickens (because, who doesn’t like to read about them?). If you were a little confused on what that means, I can help you out.
A Bantam Chicken simply means “smaller chicken.” Bantam varieties have one of two origins. A True Bantam is a naturally smaller chicken. Most of the major breeds have a Bantam counterpart that is a fraction of the size. Then there are Miniature chickens which are bred to be smaller in size and weight, but have larger heads, tails, and eggs than true bantams. These Miniatures are often called Bantams as well. It’s generally accepted that either kind of bird is a Bantam.
Bantam breeds are fantastic if you want to have chickens, but don’t have a lot of space. Yes, they lay smaller eggs than standard chickens, but they also don’t eat as much or take up as much room! They are definitely a good choice for people with small city properties.
Fun Fact #3: Chickens See & Dream in Full Color, & are Highly Attracted to Red
Chickens have amazing eyesight – they see all the colors of the rainbow. Hens especially like the color red, and roosters take advantage of that attraction by sporting bright red combs and wattles for their mating dances, which are called “tidbitting”.
Here’s another visionary tidbit: You may not have known this, but chickens can dream, too. In full color. So the things they see in their world when they are awake, they might possibly see again when they sleep. I like to think that they dream of soaring like a frigate bird! Chickens have a phase of sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement), just like we do. That’s when we humans dream too.
If you own chickens, you might observe another phase of their sleep patterns that we don’t share with our fluffy friends, and it’s called USWS, or Unihemispheric Slow Wave Sleep. If you’ve ever heard the term “sleeping with one eye open” – well, chickens can. It’s how they watch for predators while they catch some Zzz’s.
It’s actually one of the traits that has kept many bird species, like chickens, alive and thriving for so long. Did you know that there are 25 BILLION CHICKENS on the planet – nearly 4 times more than humans? They are by far the most prevalent bird in the world.
Fun Fact #4: A Hen Eats About 4 Pounds of Feed to Make 1 Dozen Eggs
This is an approximation, of course, for standard chicken breeds. Bantams eat way less. But it shows the importance of eating the right quantities of food to get the best egg production.
Chickens lay, on average, about one egg every 36-48 hours, except in times of stress, the molting period (when a chicken sheds feathers and makes new ones), or when a chicken goes “broody”.
A broody hen is a chicken dreaming of being a mom, like maternal instinct on overload. She turns the eggs about 300 times per day, and she talks to the eggs too – as they mature the chicks inside the shells chirp back to her (assuming the eggs are fertilized). During this time, a broody hen barely gets up to eat or drink. She’s dedicated!
Most egg farmers have to discourage the broody behavior to get the hens back to laying eggs, assuming there is no fertilized eggs for her to care for. But, if you have a rooster and want to hatch some chicks, a broody hen can be a great thing! Just put other fertilized eggs under her and she’ll take care of them too! Then the rest of your flock can continue to make breakfast for you while one works to hatch babies! By the way, they take about 21 days to hatch.
Fun Fact #5: The Color Eggs a Hen Lays Can Be Determined by the Color of the Earlobes
Hens are pretty predictable in their egg color if you know one simple trick:
Red Earlobes on a hen means she lays brown eggs. Some examples of brown-egg layers are: Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock
White Earlobes on a hen means she lays white and/or cream colored eggs. Some examples of white egg layers are: Leghorns and Polish. Cream colored egg layers are: Wyandottes and Silkies.
Blue/Green Earlobes on a hen means she is most likely an Easter egger and can lay Blue, Green, Rose, Lavender, or any of the other colors of eggs. Easter egg-colored egg layers are: Ameracaunas and Araucanas (both lay blue eggs), also mixed breeds called “Easter Eggers” who lay the other colors of eggs. The different colors are made when whites, browns, and blues are mixed together in the “shelling” process – this is a product of the mixed breeding.
This earlobe “rule” is a guideline only, so of course there are exceptions. But generally the above statements are true.
Do you love bird-watching? Are you fascinated by bird behaviors, their interactions with each other, and all the bright colors of their feathers? Well, you’re not alone. Birdwatching is ranked the #2 outdoor activity in the US, second only to gardening.
According to Global Harvest Foods, backyard bird feeding is a $6.3 billion market in the United States alone, with 5 million households participating in backyard bird watching and 3 million households that buy birdseed at least sometimes. Amazing, right?
I’ve always been fascinated by birds. I can sit on my backyard swing and watch the birds in the bird feeder for a long time and never grow bored. It’s definitely better than television or staring at my phone! I love the challenge of trying to identify the species of all the birds that show up at my feeder.
Birds I’ve identified so far at my feeder: Mourning Doves, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Yellowthroat, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, House Finches, Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Scarlet Tanager, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadee. I think there is one that is another Warbler but I haven’t been able to pick out which one…yet. It’s an ongoing adventure!
Many of the seed items and mixes listed below are available at our store. I have marked those items in bold type in the Food labels above the left-side pictures column below. The plain text italicized items are things that you either probably have on hand at home or you can easily get from a farmer’s market or store. We sell seed mixes in large bags and some by the pound, and if you’re trying to attract birds that like fruit and nuts, we have parrot/macaw mixes that would “fit the bill” nicely (see what I did there? Birds have bills? OK OK I’ll stop the puns for now). In the future I’ll post more about feeders and how to make good bird food suet and peanut butter cakes that your feathered friends will love.
What Can Bird Watching Bring To You?
There is such drama and politics in bird life, they all tell a little story, and they all have their own feather characteristics, behavior quirks, and sparkling personalities. It’s really fun to witness the natural order of things while knowing that my backyard feathered friends are well fed with quality seed and food. It’s a small price to pay for so much entertainment.
A Guide to Our Guide
I wanted to give you a little guide to what bird foods would attract different birds, just to have a general reference. There are lots of different options for some birds, and other birds are very specific in what they like to snack on. Also, not all these birds necessarily are here all year long…and some may not be here at all; the guides that I used for my research weren’t always specific to Florida – but hey, maybe you’re reading this and live in another state! If a specific bird listed isn’t here, I know that birds related to it will be around. Also, some food is good for a whole class of birds, like “warblers” or “sparrows”, etc.
Have more to add to my guide below? Please comment or drop me a line! I hope you enjoy this guide – I had fun making it. I also hope to see you pick up some bird food and feeders from our store in the near future. I promise you won’t regret having all the fun feathered friends who come to visit!
I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me. The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!) Thanks for reading! Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.
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