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Feed the birds: Cold weather makes it difficult for wild birds to find food

Bruce Johnson, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Winchester, provides his customers with education and the proper tools to care for birds during the winter season. Ashley Miller/Daily

Winter is the perfect season for feeding birds all across the Northern Shenandoah Valley. From cardinals and blue jays, to redheaded woodpeckers and barn swallows, Virginia is a nesting ground for a wide variety of bird species.

Bruce Johnson, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Winchester, deals in the hobby of bird feeding. Whether a newbie or a bird feeding veteran, he said caring for the birds when the temperature drops can make a lasting impact for all involved.

“As the seasons change, people are surprised to learn what a huge difference they can make by feeding the birds in winter,” Johnson said.

With the record-breaking cold over the past few weeks, birds have had a difficult time locating food sources.

“During the night, birds can loose up to 20 percent of their body fat, which keeps them warm,” Johnson said. “On days where the temperature is below freezing, they are starved for energy the moment they wake up,” he said. “We are a valuable source for their survival.”

With a few simple steps and an appetite for knowledge, Johnson said bird feeding is easy and fun for all with three simple steps.

No matter the time of the year, birds locate their food sources in nature by hunting in packs. During the winter, birds aren’t always able to get the proper nutrition they need from natural foods found in their environment. Because of this, seed eating is a supplemental source for essential nutrition. Seeds include black oil sunflowers, millet, nyjer, peanuts and chopped tree nuts. Also important for bird nutrition are suets and fats. They are a source for high-energy supplements that provide a well-rounded diet.

“Sunflowers are very high in energy and high in protein,” Johnson said. “While suet is also a good source for high-energy that helps when birds are having a difficult time locating insects.”

Whether the bird is visiting or is a neighborhood favorite, they need water for survival.

“Water is almost more important to a bird than food is,” Johnson said. “Like a human, birds need water to survive.”

Not only do birds need water for drinking but they also need water to keep their feathers clean, which allows them to stay warm. Johnson suggests during winter months having a heated birdbath because it will draw birds in immediately.

In addition to bird feeders, bird houses and nesting boxes are helpful. Johnson said that they not only do they provide a home but more the merrier equals warmth. “The more birds in the house, the warmer they’re going to be.”

Wild Birds Unlimited is located at 3103 Valley Ave. in Winchester.

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