Birds of a feather eat together

COVINGTON - Even with temperatures dipping below freezing, there is no shortage of birds flying around this winter.

Linda May, wildlife interpretive specialist at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, said resident birds like cardinals, the Carolina Chickadee or the Mourning Dove are typical yardbirds found year round in this area of Georgia, while migratory birds like the Dark-Eyed Junco stay in Georgia during the colder winter months up North.

"I'm sure (the low temperature in Georgia) stresses (the birds) out to some degree, but many of them know how to cope with it," May said. "Many of them will fluff their features out to create pockets of air to keep it circulating, or they'll sit in the sun."

She said birds that eat well will gain enough energy to keep their body temperatures up.

In the winter, the insects that some birds often eat aren't widely found, so she said this time of year is "prime bird feeding season."

May suggests individuals leave food outside for birds in various feeders.

"You can usually look at their beak shape to tell what kind of food they will eat," May said.

She said birds with thick beaks usually prefer seeds because they can crack them open, while birds with slender, pointed beaks eat insects.

"In the winter, when insects are less available, they will eat suet, which you can buy in little cakes," she said. "They don't cost very much, depending on what they have in them; some come in berry flavor or insect covered. You can also go to the butcher and get a block of lard, which they will eat."

She said most grocery stores and department stores sell bird food, but she recommends going to feed stores for most foods because customers can buy a bigger quantity for a cheaper price.

"And you definitely get what you pay for; some of the cheaper feed has filler in it, which is the food the birds don't want," she said. "They'll just eat around it and leave the rest after they find that black oil sunflower, which most all of them like."

She said mixed feed can be served in a ground feeder, which will keep squirrels and other rodents busy and away from hanging feeders. Suet also can be served on ground feeders.

If stored feed is kept outside, she said that food is likely to be eaten by rodents, even if it's in a plastic container, so she recommends storing it inside or in a garage.

Charlie Elliott offers bird-related classes - such as bird feeding, bird nesting and others - throughout the year.

Registration is now open for the Jan. 30 class, called Fascinated by Birds, which includes a video and a presentation of live birds.

On Jan. 22, registration opens for the March 22 class, called Bird Nesting Basics, which teaches good practices and needs for a basic backyard habitat.

All classes at Charlie Elliott are free, thanks to a grant from the Department of Natural Resources. Preregistration is required and will remain open until the class is full, usually up to 25 spaces.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center Bird Activities

· What: Fascinated by Birds

· When: 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Jan. 30; registration is now open

· Cost: Free

· What: Bird Nesting Basics

· When: 10 a.m. to noon March 22; registration starts Jan. 22

· Cost: Free

Registration is required by calling Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center at 770-784-3059.