They always seem to know when the tough times are arriving.

The birds know, that is.

If the weather forecast holds, this weekend will kick off the true “winter” season. The brief three day cold snap in mid-December was followed by weeks of moderate temperatures, and most importantly bare ground where weed seeds provide provender for resident songbirds as well as transients heading south from their north land haunts. There will also be seeds clinging to their stalk hosts, and these, too, are sources of sustenance.

Eventually, the existing seeds get consumed, and then the hard times set it. This period is exacerbated by snow cover and, even worse, ice storms that sheath the stalks, and whatever seeds still remaining above ground, in a bill-breaking shield.

Said icy cloaks also impact woodpeckers, as tree trunks and limbs are encased in ice that even a ‘peckers hammer may not be able to penetrate.

What’s a bird to do these upcoming two critical months?

Being the survivalists they are, visit and chow at a bird feeder and/or suet block cage set out in a backyard or off a deck. To be sure, those caring for wildlife put out sustenance for when times are tough, and in many instances, these feeding stations can mean the difference between surviving and the alternative.

Besides, it’s a kick watching and identifying the myriad species that will, at least twice, if not thrice, a day swoop in on the feeder(s) and cage. The list includes mourning doves, black-capped chickadees, juncos, striped sparrows, cardinals, wrens and tufted titmice, among others. And don’t be surprised if a flock of grackles (blackbirds), sometimes numbering in the dozens, wings in and sets claim to the seed ‘n suet booty.

Sean Quinn Photography

It happened to us last weekend when a grackle invasion was a pure Alfred Hitchcock scenario.

Tom P

Birdseed is inexpensive and goes a long way in helping the avian visitors. Of course, one can be as esoteric as the budget allows, specifying seed mixtures for the likes of cardinals, for example. We opt for the generic “one bag feeds all” that is comprised of sunflower seeds, millet, and milo. Figure a 20-lb. sack in the $9-11 range predicated on the retailer.

Tom P

Bird feeders come in various shapes and sizes, but one factor is its being “squirrel-proof”, or as close as possible. A misnomer, really, because the tree rats invariably find a way to get to the seeds and the suet blocks. When it comes to the latter, we hang the Heath Red Pepper Suet that is spicy enough, after one sniff or one taste, to vamoose. Where one chooses to hang the feeders, and from what, goes a long way in preventing rodent raids. One thing is to make sure there are no bushes or branches in close proximity that can give the squirrel a launching point. If hanging the feeder from a metal pole, slathering the length with Vaseline will prevent them from attaining the prize.

Tom P

Don’t know your winter avian visitors? Easy enough via the likes of the books “Backyard Bird Lovers Guide” and the “Birds of Eastern North America”, and the laminated foldout “Shebley’s Backyard Birds of the Northeast”. Bookstores, Amazon...easy enough to find.

No doubt, winter bird watching is enjoyable and educational. Yes, there are still a couple of weeks of winter bow deer season and the Coastal Zone duck season, and another month of the small game season. You can’t get out every day, and the days you don’t get out, well, see, identify and savor who is appreciating your victual, and possibly lifesaving, generosity.

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