Historical records tell us that February has traditionally been a lean month for people living in the Northern Hemisphere. Gone were all the fresh fruits and vegetables of the previous summer and fall. All that was left were the foods that stored well such as potatoes and other root crops. There is a reason that much of what we consider “comfort food” is carbohydrate heavy and loaded with fat. These types of food provide the long burning energy to keep our bodies warm during the winter. Finding food isn’t any easier for the birds of Bernheim.
Many birds also need to change their eating habits in the winter. Nuthatches, Wrens, and Chickadees spend most of the year dining on insects, spiders, and other small creatures – with seeds making up only about 10 % of their diet. In the winter, however, insects and such can be hard to come by. Now, seeds can account for up to 60% of the birds’ nutritional intake. Just like us, they start to load up on carbs and fat. One cup of black oil sunflower seeds contains 28 grams of carbohydrates, 29 grams of protein, and a whopping 72 grams of fat! Talk about a “comfort food.”
Also like us, birds will often store food for later use. They will create little stashes that they can visit when the weather turns nasty or when normal food sources become scarce. Nuthatches, in particular, are far more like some people I know than I really care to admit. The female will do her best to hide her cache from her lifelong mate. She knows that if he finds it, he will eat the entire hoard and leave nothing for her.
Since 1994, February has been designated National Bird-Feeding Month. Feeding birds is an inexpensive, rewarding activity in which the whole family can participate. I encourage everyone to stop by the Wildlife Viewing Room at Bernheim’s Education Center and see how enjoyable it can be. Who knows? You may notice some other ways the Birds of Bernheim are a lot like us.
To learn more about birds and and birding, consider attending Bernheim Backyard Birding on February 10. This new program is open to all ages and will include information and activities about birds, feeders, identification, and more.
–Jim Scout, Volunteer Naturalist