Cold weather tough on backyard birds

Birds at a feeder. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)
Birds at a feeder. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

GREEN BAY - It's been a long winter season, leaving many people shivering from the cold, and for some, the weather's been for the birds.

Tom Brawner says feeding the birds in his De Pere yard has become routine.

"I fill that up, all the way. I sprinkle some on the trays," said Brawner.

Brawner says he gets dozens of birds.

"I got blue jays, cardinals," said Brawner.

But this year, he's been busy feeding the birds.

"Oh my God, they've gone through another load, so I go out and fill it up again. Sometimes it will be twice a day," said Brawner.

Backyard birds in the area can be seen huddling in trees, or puffing up to stay warm.

"It's been a tough winter on them," said Mike Reed, Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary director.

Reed says many birds stay the winter or even migrate from areas in the north.

Reed says some birds can change their metabolism. They go into a self-induced hibernation, so they can make it through the bitter cold.

"Overnight, slow their heart rate, and their body temperature and survive that way. But once they wake up in the morning, they need to eat and refuel," said Reed.

Reed says birds in tough winter conditions need to eat at least half their weight each day to survive.

"It's a busy time," said Barbara Brebner, For the Birds owner.

Brebner says high fat, high protein seeds are most effective.

"Some of the nut blends have raisins, and dried fruit in them, which is what a lot of the birds out in the wild would be eating," said Brebner. "I don't think we change their behavior, but they're certainly good at capitalizing on what we offer them.”

Meanwhile, Tom Brawner says he'll keep scooping seeds at least until spring.

"There's a lot of birds that need our help during the winter and these cold months. It's enjoyable to have them around," said Brawner.

And there will be a chance for citizen scientists to get involved.

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count takes place this weekend.

People will be asked to count different birds they see and report the findings online.