SEE THAT small gray bird with the jet black cap? The little guy sitting in the dogwood tree calling see-me, see-me with all its might? That's a chickadee, a Carolina chickadee more than likely.
And the other gray fluff with the little bug-eyes and the crest on his head? That's a tufted titmouse. If you spot one, it's a good bet there are more of them quietly hiding in a hearby hedgerow.
The big, blue fellow with the loud voice and the crested head is a bluejay, of course. The slate-gray cutey with the white belly is a junko. And the black and white creature with the red spot on his head? That's a downy woodpecker.
Now peer under the drooping limbs of your magnolia tree. Seeking protection from the weather and your neighbor's cat are a couple of cardinals foraging for seeds among the fallen leaves. Half way up the tree, neatly camouflaged, some sparrows and finches keep their eyes peeled for nuts or seeds uncovered by the winds and tossed into the open.
During the cold months, more than 100 species of birds will make their homes in the Washington area -- or at least will pay a visit here. And when all the world seems hard and frozen, these feathered residents are joyful and animated reminders that, there is life after winter.
You don't even have to bundle up and trek down to your neighborhood park with a bagful of birdseed to enjoy them. Homeowners and apartment-dwellers alike can view the winged spectacle by sitting quietly at a window.
But watching the birds is only part of the fun. You can multiply your enjoyment by feeding them and helping them to survive the rigors of winter. Obviously, it's easier just to watch, but feeding isn't difficult and the benefits make up for the bother. To warm a cold heart on a chilly morning, set up a feeding station by your kitchen door or dining- room and share breakfast with the birds.
A large, hanging tube feeder filled with sunflower seeds would be wonderful, indeed, but you can begin your feeding program with a few nuts or seeds sprinkled on a window sill. (Regardless of the quantities you plan to feed, the birds will become dependent on you. So be sure to continue feeding until the weather warms up.)
Tube feeders are generally made from plastic cylinders with dowels for perches and small holes for seed extraction. The length of the perches and the size of the holes determine which birds will use the feeder. A thistle tube despenses seeds through tiny holes and is used almost exclusively by the various finches. Some tubes with shorter perches and larger holes are used only by the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.
The tubes can be suspended from hooks on your porch or from brackets installed beside a window. (Seed hulls will collect around your feeders, so hang them where a little mess won't bother you.) Of course, feeders can be hung from tree branches, but don't put one where snow or ice will keep you from refilling it.
Some birds won't come to hanging feedrs. Cardinals, jays and juncos, for instance, feed primarily from the ground or from tray-like platforms. If you hang a tube feeder in an open area of your yard, the ground-feeding birds will patrol the area beneath the tube for fallen seeds. Be sure to scatter some extra seeds on the ground, too.
Though some experts say that woodpeckers aren't attracted to tube feeders, I've been feeding sevceral downy 'peckers from my short-perched tubes for years. The little fellows cling (rather than perch), remove a single seed and then fly to a nearby cherry three when the seed is opened and consumed.
Suet and peanut butter, however, are the woodpeacker's favorite foods. Both are favored by other insect-eaters too, like chickadees and the titmouse. bYou can get suet prepared for wild birds from many garden-supply stores (which usually carry a variety of feeders and foods). You can get beef suet from your butcher, but it must be cooked. Suet and peanut better not only provide the birds with an important source of protein, but the relatively strong smells will attract them as well.
Sunflower seed is the single most popular food for seed-eating birds (and for a few of the insect-eaters also). Every feeding station should have a good supply. Cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, purple finches, goldfinches and evening grosbeaks will eat large quantities. Chickadees out of dried sunflower heads, which can be hung upside down wherever it's convenient. Birds that feed on the ground, especially the cardinals and jays, prefer the loose seed.
Thistle seed is very popular with most of the seed-eaters. It's also very expensive and is best used in feders with small extraction holes. Millet isthe best of the grains that are available and is a favorite of juncos and sparrows. relatively inexpensive, it is often used as a bulk filler in seed mixtures.
Because I'm lazy (and because I have lots to of feeders), I fill each of my tubes with only one type of seed; but you can make your own mix. based on how much you want to spend and which birds you'd like to attract, combine quantities of sunflower and thistle seeds and millet. Don't use peanuts or you plan to use it all very quickly (nut meats become racid and spoil the mixture). Pigeons love cracked corn, so avoid it like the plague.
Raisins, bananas, oranges and dried, berries are all good winter substitutes for the wild fruits usually eaten by birds in the summer and all. Unfortunately, squirrels and dogs also like them, so be judicious concerning their use.
If you have space in your yard or have a large sill outside your favorite window, keep a shallow pan filled with water. The birds will reward you by drinking and bathing, especially when their normal watering holes are frozen over. (Sunlight reflecting on the water also will attract lots of birds.)
If hemlocks, dogwoods, black cherries, hawthorns, bayberries, inkberries or American hollies grow close to your home, you are fortunate indeed. These are among the trees and shrubs that provide both cover (protection) and winter food for a large variety of birds. Birds attracted to your feeding stations will be more likely to stick around if some of their natural foods and habitats are there.
Come the spring thaw and you find a bit of unused planting space in your yard, consider a tree like the white spruce. Its seed-bearing cones are especially attractive to finches and woodpeckers; its evergreen foliage provides ideal cover and (during warmer weather) nesting sites for many species.If you don't have much space, try Hall's honeysuckle, which grows well on walls or trellises and produces blackberries that persist well into February (and flickers can't pass them up).
This winter, though, you'll have to make do with what you've got. So put a hanging feeder by the dogwood tree, fill a cake pan with water, pull your favorite chair up to the window and enjoy the show.