Blane Klemek's Minnesota Outdoors: Bird Diversity=Food Diversity

Submitted by Blane Klemek

In our neck of the woods as the fall season advances and days become shorter and cooler, most of Minnesota’s migrant birds will be well on their way to their traditional wintering grounds much further south. While some of these migrants are still here and others are moving through, it won’t be long until our backyard bird feeding stations’ visitors will by a predictable assortment of year ‘round resident feathered friends that we all know and enjoy.

Depending on exactly where we live, most of us tend to observe a small and familiar array of Minnesota resident birds following the seasonal migrants’ departure for warmer climes. This list of feathered friends includes white-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, downy and hairy woodpeckers, and blue jays. Other birds, too, sometimes show up at our feeders and suet in the winter—pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, northern cardinals, brown creepers, red-breasted nuthatches, evening and pine grosbeaks, and finches such as American goldfinches, purple finches, common redpolls, and pine siskins.

Given the wealth of bird abundance that we’re blessed with during roughly only a quarter to maybe half of the year (if we’re lucky), how can we maximize the extent and diversity of wild birds to our bird feeding stations by our resident Minnesota birds throughout the year, especially during the long and cold months of winter?

Think variety!

Indeed, bird diversity is always enhanced in environments that provide all the essential elements that all species of wildlife depend upon for survival: food, water, shelter, and space. Remove just one of these four critical components, species diversity and species richness will not be as great.

I’ll admit to being a kind of “stick in the mud” when it comes to providing variety. I’ve tended to stick to black-oil sunflower seed and different brands of suet. I also usually like to hang a deer carcass on a tree limb (this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the birds love it!). Yet if I added other seeds and seed mixes, I’d be sure to attract a wider variety of wintertime avian guests.

For example, consideration should be given to purchasing seed mixes that contain bits of fruit and other favorite cardinal and grosbeak foods. Thistle seed, too, as well as both striped and black-oil sunflower seeds, millet seed and other mixed birdseed that includes corn and other food, are all excellent additions to help create a backyard bird bonanza.

Even so, increasing wild bird diversity on our properties doesn’t necessarily boil down to just having to purchase bags of different seed and suet. Planting species of fruit and nut-bearing trees and shrubs will also attract wild birds to our backyards. A host of hardy species of trees and shrubs can be easily and cheaply purchased in the springtime from various nurseries and government natural resources agencies. Trees and shrubs such as mountain ash, chokecherry, nannyberry, dogwood, hazel, serviceberry, and many others, will provide wild birds and other species of wildlife with not only both wintertime and summertime foods, but with shelter and potential nest-sties, too.

Other outstanding bird attractants include heated bird baths and bird waterers. Birds will readily accept water in the winter, including taking baths. Grit is another item that birds will utilize when available. It’s easy to collect, or buy, in order to provide birds this important resource, too.

Another item that certain birds will use are bird roosting shelters. These shelters provide safe and warm havens for such birds as chickadees to use when the weather turns especially cold. My bird shelter is about half the size of a wood duck nesting box, has one small hole near the bottom of the box, and has little perching pegs inside the box for birds to rest on. The box is even partially insulated with Styrofoam and has a removable lid for access and cleaning.

So what’s the bottom line in attracting more and/or different wild birds to our backyard bird feeding stations? It’s simple: think diversity. Add peanuts and or peanut butter for woodpeckers, purchase different seeds and seed mixes, try different types of bird feeders, hang a variety of suet cakes, and provide water, grit, and shelter, too. With this assortment of goodies we can rest assured of more visits by more birds as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Outdoors Columnist Blane Klemek