Overwintering Birds

Winter can be a harsh time for songbirds that are used to eating insects during the warmer months of the year. With the colder, shorter days, food sources may be buried under snow, and most of the insects have died or gone dormant.

As a result, these birds typically shift their diet to seeds and berries in the fall and winter months. Some species may choose to migrate further south to find insects and berries to eat. Those that do stay or those that migrate from northern latitudes may need a little help in the form of backyard feeders.

Many of the backyards birds, such as dark eyed juncos, pine siskins, American tree sparrows, white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, common redpoll and American robins are winter visitors from up north. These species migrate south in search of food and “warmer” weather.

Winter – generally October through March – is an important time to provide a reliable food source for overwintering and migrating birds in Illinois, especially as suburban development means less food and shelter for wildlife. Bird food that is high in calories and fat will give birds the added fuel they need to survive sudden drops in temperature and severe winter storms. Oil sunflower and suet are two examples of ideal winter foods.

Providing a source of open water for drinking and bathing is also great; clean feathers are an excellent insulation.

Robins are often a harbinger of spring and a welcome sight after a cold and snowy winter. However, in recent years robins have been hanging around all year in northeastern Illinois. While some robins may visit from the north in search of better weather and food sources, many robins may have adapted to the plethora of berry-bearing trees in the urban landscape. More crabapples mean more food and thus less need to migrate. The result is seeing robins all winter long.

Come out and lend a hand at one of the Forest Preserve District’s restoration workdays. For more information about District’s volunteer monitoring programs, see the Natural Resource Management Volunteer Program page.

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