Homebodies: 4 Birds Who Stick Around All Year (and How to Attract Them to Your Yard)

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

This time of year we are often focusing on the migratory birds who are leaving us for the winter months, and the ones who are returning in their absence. With all the excitement of migration, it's easy to forget about the birds who stick with us 365 days a year. They bring us so much joy, we owe it to them to learn a little about what we can do to make them happy throughout the seasons. 

Black-capped Chickadees feeding on Hot Pepper Cranberry Seed Cylinder

Black-capped Chickadees
Everyone's favourite little feeder bird! Lucky for us, chickadees are resilient and built to tough out Canadian winters meaning that we get to see them all year long. In the fall, these sweet songbirds spend a lot of time at feeders as they take and stash food to eat at a later time, a behaviour known as "caching". Caching food helps birds survive during periods of inclement weather or when food sources are scarce. Each cache site typically only has one item of food, and by the end of the season most birds have well over 1000 caches. Other birds who practice caching in the fall include nuthatches, jays, and some woodpeckers. Chickadees, however, have a bit of an advantage when it comes to remembering where all those secret stashes are hidden. In the fall and winter, chickadees are actually able to add cells in the hippocampus - the part of the brain that supports spatial memory. The hippocampus expands by nearly 30% in order to give chickadees the memory boost they need to locate the thousands of hidden seeds, and shrinks back down to normal size with the arrival of spring. Pretty incredible considering I can't even find my phone when it's right in my hand. 

  • Attracting Black-capped Chickadees to Your Yard

    Favourite foods:
    Chickadees are less than picky when it comes to food. They are omnivorous, and will eat anything from insects, to fruits, to seeds, to suet - you name it, they'll try it! But just like the rest of us, they do have their favourites. Some of those include sunflower chips, safflower seed, Choice Plus Blend, Bark Butter, SuperSuet, and live mealworms. 

    Pro tip: Want to get up close and personal with the chickadees in your backyard? Try hand feeding! Start in the morning before you fill your feeders, and offer some extra yummy treats like live mealworms, Bark Butter Bits, Choice Plus Blend, or our Winter SuperBlend. Sit still with your arm extended and be patient. This often takes some time, so don't be offended if you're avoided the first few times you attempt hand feeding. Patience is key! That and some yummy WBU treats. 😉

American Goldfinch in the molting process

American Goldfinches
Contrary to popular belief, goldfinches do not migrate south for the winter. Male American Goldfinches go through a pretty drastic change in the fall, where they gradually molt from their bright yellow plumage to a more subdued beige-y yellow, similar to their female counterparts. This change is what tricks many backyard birders into believing that their beloved goldfinches have left them for the season, only to see them return again in the spring. Through the course of the winter months, goldfinches slowly molt back to their vivid breeding plumage. Watch closely in your yard to see if you notice the transition from breeding plumage to non-breeding plumage, and back to breeding plumage again around April. Click here to view all the stages of their molting process.

  • Attracting American Goldfinches to Your Yard

    Favourite foods:
    Unlike most of our native bird species, American Goldfinches are strict vegetarians. They rely only on plant material to survive year-round. In the wild, goldfinches forage for small seeds from plants such as thistle and cone flowers, and will do the same in our yards if we provide native plants for them to do so. At feeders they are most likely to go for nyjer which is a small seed similar to thistle, and sunflower chips, both of which are in our Finch Blend designed specifically to attract goldfinches. 

    Pro tip: Providing water is always a bonus to any backyard setup. Goldfinches make full use of a birdbath throughout all the seasons, and installing a heated birdbath is a wise investment to make sure your backyard birds have access to fresh water throughout the winter months. 

Downy Woodpecker feeding on Hot Pepper Bark Butter

Out of Ontario's nine woodpecker species, only three are migratory - the Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Northern Flicker. Of the six who are non-migratory, four are commonly found in Eastern and Southern Ontario (uncommon in the area are Black-backed and American Three-toed). Those four species are Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Red-bellied, all of which will readily visit feeders when being offered foods that meet their nutritional needs throughout the winter months. 

  • Attracting Woodpeckers to Your Yard

    Favourite foods:
    Woodpeckers are omnivorous, but tend to favour heavier on the meat (or insect) side. To help simulate this at our feeders we can offer woodpeckers live mealworms, or other sources of protein such as WBU suet, Bark Butter, seed cylinders, peanuts, and Choice Plus Blend. Planting native plants in your yard such as staghorn sumac, mountain ash, and currants, can help attract woodpeckers in the summer as they host many insect species woodpeckers eat, and can also help them survive in the harsh winter months as they feed on the berries.

    Pro tip: Spread Bark Butter on trees in your yard to help attract more elusive species like Pileated, Red-headed, or Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Offering Bark Butter on trees in your yard during inclement weather can also help a number of birds as it allows them to feed under the cover of the tree rather than having to fly out to a feeding station.

Barred Owl

Barred Owls
Okay, not exactly a feeder bird, but definitely a cool one to have as a yard visitor. Fall is a great time to be on the lookout for Barred Owls in your yard, as families are separating and this year's young will be venturing out to find territory of their own. Barred Owls have relatively small home ranges (one square mile on average), which is where they find the majority of their food and stay to breed. If you've seen a barred in your yard, chances are that your yard is in the owl's home range. 

  • Attracting Barred Owls to Your Yard

    The best way to attract Barred Owls to your yard is to create suitable habitat for them. This can be done in multiple ways, including:

    1. Providing a water source in the form of a large birdbath or shallow pond. Barred Owls will visit birdbaths or other water sources to drink from and bathe in. If a pond is available, they may also be found scanning the area for food such as frogs, small mammals, or even crayfish. 

    2. Planting native plants & trees that provide habitat for Barred Owls themselves and the prey they rely on for survival. Oak & maple trees, and shrubs like sumac, highbush cranberry, mountain ash, and other fruiting varieties are all excellent choices that provide both habitat and food for wildlife. 

    3. Installing a Barred Owl Nesting Box. If you have the right property - wooded area with mature trees, water source, and plenty of native plants - you may have luck attracting a mating pair of Barred Owl by installing a nesting box. Nesting boxes simulate the cavities Barred Owls nest in naturally, and provide a safe space for them to raise their young, many returning to the same box year after year. 

    4. Avoiding rodenticides. Rodenticides not only kill their intended targets in a less than peaceful way, they also have a negative affect on raptor populations. When a bird of prey consumes an animal that has ingested a rodenticide, it may not succumb to the poison immediately. When multiple poisoned animals are consumed over time, the poison builds up in the bird's body (bioaccumulation) which can cause a number of health issues including problems with the nervous and reproductive systems, and even death.  

As sad as it is to see the summer birds go, remember that we have our old faithfuls here day in and day out to fill our lives with joy - and to make sure we keep filling the feeders. 

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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