Many of the natural seed sources that birds prefer in summer get scarce in winters. Even if seed is available, winter winds or snow often blows away food or excess moisture makes that food inedible. The days are shorter, too, so there’s less time to spend looking for food.
To prevent their starvation in these snow spells and sub zero degree temperatures, people place left-over food, grains, bread crumbs on window sills, porches, balconies and verandas.
Birder and Wildlife Biologist Tahir Gazanfer said most birds that are seen in snowy weather thrive on seeds since insects and fruit are harder to find naturally during the winter.
“The best food to offer birds in colder weather is that which provides abundant energy for winter survival. Nutritious winter foods for birds include meshed grains, lentils and pulses,” Gazanfer said.
Because natural food sources are scarcer in the winter, Gazanfer said more birds may be attracted to feeders and feeding places, which need to be cleaned regularly.
“Proper cleaning will minimise mould, mildew and other unhealthy conditions that could foster disease among backyard bird populations. When cleaning, discard soggy seed or seed encased in ice, and let the feeder and feeding places dry before refilling if possible. Be sure to wipe down perches, poles and other parts of the feeder as well,” he said.
The birder said predators are extra hungry too in winters. “When food’s harder for the birds to find, it’s harder for mice, raccoons, and stray cats to find, too. Help protect birds by placing food sources near a safe place or other natural coverage to keep birds fed while offering a place to hide,” he said.
He, however, pointed out that feeding wild birds that survive the winter might have unintended effects on their health, ecology or behaviour.
“According to Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), India, feeding wild birds can make them lose their fear of humans, making them vulnerable to poachers. Consumption of processed foods that lack the nutrients found in their natural diets can make them unhealthy, and certain foods, like fried snacks, can also cause choking,” he said.
He pointed out that artificially fed wild birds, especially young birds, can get dependent on these food items, reducing their capacity to forage in the wild, leading to starvation and even death.
“In this situation, it is better to follow some dos and don’ts while bird feeding,” he said.