• Refreshing Your Wild Bird Feeders

    Refreshing Your Wild Birdfeeders

    Kaytee FeedersCleaning wild bird feeders can be challenging, especially in the winter and in the colder climates where outdoor water spouts/faucets need to be turned off to prevent from freezing.  While it may be challenging though, it is extremely important to the health of your backyard birds to keep your feeders clean.  

    FACT: A dirty birdfeeder can harbor bacteria, mold and other disease agents that can decimate backyard bird populations. Infected birds can spread the illness to other backyards and wild populations, creating epidemic conditions that could wipe out entire nesting colonies if left unchecked.
    Plus, clean feeders will attract more wild birds because the fresh, clean seed is more appealing and nutritious!
    That being said, please read the below tips to keeping your feeders clean in winter:
    • Consider purchasing tube feeders that can be completely disassembled and washed in a 1/10 part bleach solution in the kitchen sink or put in the dishwasher.
    • Wash suet feeders and hummingbird feeders in a sink or dishwasher
    • Use platform feeders with removable trays that can be brought inside and washed in the kitchen sink or dishwasher.
    • Use disposable "thistle" socks for feeding Nyjer seed.

    For year-round feeder cleaning, you may also use the following tips for the cleanest, healthiest and most attractive wild bird feeders:

    • Clean Regularly: All feeders should be thoroughly cleaned at least once per month, but popular feeders may need to be cleaned much more frequently depending on how many birds use them and how much seed is consumed. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned each time the nectar is refilled.

    • Use Proper Cleaning Solutions: Feeders can be sanitized with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water. Commercial birdfeeder cleaning solutions are also effective, and a mild solution of unscented dish detergent is acceptable as well.
    • Clean All Feeder Parts: For the best sanitation and disease prevention, each feeder should be cleaned inside and out, including all feeding ports, perches, lids, platforms and reservoirs. The feeder’s hooks, poles and any other part where birds may perch or where feces may collect should also be cleaned.
    • Use Proper Equipment: Use rubber gloves to avoid any contamination and use stiff brushes to ensure thorough cleaning. Birdfeeder and pet supply stores will have specialized brushes for different sizes and shapes of feeders, though regular bottle brushes can also be effective. An old toothbrush is a great option for cleaning small parts, feeding ports and tight corners.
    • Rinse Thoroughly: After cleaning, the feeder and all cleaned parts should be rinsed for at least 10 seconds in clear, clean water to be sure all chemical residue is removed.
    • Dry Completely: Before refilling the feeder, it should be completely dry. Any remaining moisture could lead to mold and mildew that can cause illness and rotten, unhealthy seed.


    Cleaning Around Birdfeeders

    In addition to keeping the birdfeeders clean, it is essential to clean all nearby areas where birds perch and congregate. Eager and hungry birds can spill seed several feet away from feeders, and all feeding areas must be clean to keep bird populations healthy. To keep nearby areas clean:
    • Remove old or damp seed from beneath all feeders
    • Remove rotten fruit from trees where birds feed
    • Refresh mulch or gravel beneath feeders to cover droppings
    • Keep birdbaths and other perches clean

    Clean birdfeeders and feeding areas will attract more birds and keep all backyard birds healthier for birders to enjoy.

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  • The Finch Experience

    Did you know that in the continental U.S., we have about sixteen different species of finches?


    GoldfinchIn fact, many birds in the world are called finches, many others look like finches, but real finches are predominantly seed eating songbirds (Passerine) in the Fringillidae family.

    It gets even more complicated when the finch family splits in four subfamilies, and we find birds such as the Hawaiian Honeycreeper and tropical Euphonias under the same family as our American Goldfinch.


     With such classifications, you may wonder which ones are the true finches!

    Some birdwatchers consider real finches, all three American rosefinches (House Finch, Cassin’s Finch, and Purple Finch), three species of mountain finches (Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Brown –capped Rosy-Finch, and Black Rosy-Finch), Golfinches (American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch) including Pine Siskins, and Redpolls (Common Redpoll and Hoary Redpoll). The truth is; however, that if we look at the biological classifications, there are other birds such as Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak, and Evening Grosbeak that should be included in your list of finches as well. 


    Not all finches are easy to identify by their color or size.  American rosefinches, which are very similar in color and size, are very tricky to identify, and color is not always there to help. 

    Nonetheless, the two common colors among backyard finches are yellow and red.  These colors are carotenoid pigments synthesized from their foods, which means that they are only the colors that you see due to the foods that they eat.


    Most species of finches are sexually dimorphic, with male birds having relatively bright and colorful plumage, and females with a dull brown or yellow-green plumage.  In addition, most finches molt in the spring, while some species such as American Goldfinch molt two times a year.  Considering the number of finch species, and the color variations throughout the year, the easiest way to practice finch identification is by feeding them and observing them in your backyard.


    Finches typically travel in large flocks, and many of the northern species such as Red Polls and Pine Siskins can be eminently eruptive in their abundance. That being said, try to set up more than one feeder; memorize their calls, learn their flight patterns, and different plumage between sexes. Studying finches can be the next step in advanced birding for many backyard enthusiasts! 


    How can you participate?  First you must know that all finches are seedeaters and their diet is not exclusively thistle seed, especially during the winter. Finches eat a diversity of seeds, grasses, berries and insects as their source of protein.  In the winter, their bodies require a higher fat diet for energy production in order to survive. You will be the most successful in attracting finches by providing a good nutritional source with a properly balanced finch mix.


    KAYTEE Ultra Wild Finch

    At KAYTEE’s R&D department, we have been studying finch behavior at feeders and their food preferences. As part of our studies, we want to have a deeper understanding of finches’ nutritional requirements in their natural environment. Learning more about their nutritional requirements is helping us to understand the benefits from their preferred seeds at feeders. After extensive studies in color preference and color contrast, we were able to develop a new finch mix.  KAYTEE Ultra Wild Finch not only attracts a great variety of finches, but also is a great nutritional source year-round.

    Also, as part of our finch behavior studies, our research team developed a new tube feeder. The new feeder was developed using body measurements from common finches, and angle perches for easy feeding. Birds are an easy prey at feeders for cats or birds of prey. The new angle perches allow birds to have a wider visual field around the feeder, making them feel more comfortable while they are feeding.

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  • Brrrr! How do the birds stay warm?

    It happens every year, but we never seem quite prepared for it.  We begin to bundle up with our sweaters, big winter coats, mittens and hats to keep warm… but what about the birds?

    Black Capped ChickadeeHow do the birds stay warm?

    Birds have many physical and behavioral adaptations to keep warm, no matter how chilly it is outside! But birds are only able to regulate their body temperature through metabolic heat production which means balancing the intake of energy with what has been consumed.

    There are three physical adaptations which keep your backyard birds warm during the cold winter months; their legs and feet, feathers, and fat reserves.

    Physical Adaptations:

    Legs & Feet: Birds’ legs and feet help minimize heat loss through their unique circulatory system of arteries and veins. In many birds, arteries and veins in their legs lie in contact with each other in order to exchange heat and maintain temperature. Arterial blood it is normally at body temperature and it is sent to the feet through a series of conducts that run along with the cold returning venous blood.  This keeps the heat toward the core of their body, by constricting blood flow to their extremities.  But, they are also able to minimize heat loss through the specialized scales on their legs and feet. 

    This varies amongst birds as ground foraging birds such as sparrows and juncos typically drop down covering their legs and feet as a way to transfer body heat.

    Feathers: Birds’ feathers provide remarkable insulation against the cold, and many bird species grow extra feathers as part of a late fall molt to give them thicker protection in the winter. Birds also produce a special type of oil, which coats their feathers to provide insulation as well as waterproofing.

    Fat Reserves: Birds build up fat reserves to serve as insulation and extra energy for generating body heat. Many birds will gorge during the fall when food sources are abundant, giving them an extra fatty layer before winter arrives.

    In addition to physical adaptations, birds use their behavioral adaptations such as fluffing, tucking, sunning, and shivering.  In severe situations, they may go into torpor in efforts to survive a cold winter night. 

    Behavioral Adaptations

    Fluffing: Birds will fluff out their feathers to create air pockets for additional insulation in cold temperatures.

    Tucking: It is not unusual to see a bird standing on one leg or crouched to cover both legs with its feathers to shield them from the cold. Birds can also tuck their bills into their shoulder feathers for protection.

    Sunning: On sunny winter days, many birds will take advantage of solar heat by turning their backs to the sun (therefore exposing the largest surface of their bodies to the heat) and raising their feathers slightly. This allows the sun to heat the skin and feathers more efficiently. Wings may also be drooped or spread while sunning, and the tail may be spread as well.

    Roosting: Many small birds, including bluebirds, chickadees and titmice, will gather in large flocks at night and crowd together in a small, tight space to share body heat. They can roost in shrubbery or trees, and empty birdhouses are also popular locations to conserve heat. Even individual birds choose roost spots that may have residual heat from the day’s sunlight, such as close to the trunk of a tree or near any dark surface.

    Shivering: Birds produce heat during the winter nights and cold storms by shivering, a process called thermogenesis. During this process the birds will shiver to raise their metabolic rate and generate body heat by consuming their fat perseveres.  Shivering allows birds to maintain their body temperature up to 8-10 hours depending on the species and their intake of energy from food during the day. 

    TORPOR: As a last resort to stay warm, songbirds such as Chickadees (and Hummingbirds) will enter a state of unconsciousness or torpor to stay warm during severely cold winter nights. During the torpor state body temperature may drop between 10 to15 degrees, but could be as much as 50 degrees!  This can be very dangerous as it leads to reduced reactions and greater vulnerability to predators. In the morning, they will then decrease their periods of inactivity and will start shivering again, increasing body heat and becoming active. There is; however, a high metabolic cost incurred by awakening from torpor that demands immediate payback in energy from food intake.

    But that’s also why it is extremely important for winter songbirds to find food early in the morning regardless of weather conditions.  If the bird does not find enough food to produce the necessary energy to make it through the night or a severe storm, the bird will die.


    During the winter, thermogenic capabilities of some birds such as Goldfinches, House Finches and Redpolls are impressive, in many cases better than the ability of mammals. The same species will become hypothermic during a cold front in the springtime, due to the lower feather cover and the low fat preserves.

    Helping Keep Birds Warm

    Even with all these adaptations to conserve heat and stay warm, many birds still succumb to frigid temperatures and bird mortality can be very high during severe winters. Birders who know how to keep wild birds warm in winter can help their backyard birds have an edge over the cruelest weather.

    Feeding birds, especially during the winter months, can be a very rewarding and enjoyable hobby for all.  If you provide food in the winter, keeping the feeder full will help the birds as many birds will rely on it as a regular place to eat. Keep the following tips in mind for a successful winter bird feeding season!

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    • Clean off feeders, platforms and perches after each snowfall so seed is easily accessible.
    • Leave fruit and berries on trees, hedges and bushes to provide a natural source of food throughout the winter.
    • Add a heated birdbath to your backyard or place a safe heating element in a regular birdbath to provide birds with liquid water
    • Stamp or shovel snow around feeders to provide easier access to spilled seed for ground feeding birds.
    • Leave nesting boxes and birdhouses up all year round to provide winter roosting sites. To maximize the number of species that visit your feeders, you'll want to offer a variety of food in several feeders. 

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  • “Winter Break” for Migrating Birds

    For billions of birds it is time to begin their migration to the tropics. These birds are members of a group called Neotropical migrants; birds that spend their non-breeding season (September through April) in Latin America, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Among this large number of migratory birds are Buntings, Grosbeaks, Tanager, Orioles, Vireos, and 20 different species of Warblers and Hummingbirds. Some Central American countries, such as Costa Rica, have estimated over 5 billion birds pass through every year!

    Birds are able to successfully migrate using their primitive instincts to survive. They have two biological clocks that help them to determine many of their daily and annual activities as well as behaviors. The daily clock tells them to respond to daily cycles of light and temperature. The annual clock works in their hormonal system and tells them when to molt new plumage, migrate and reproduce. Additionally, many physiological changes will occur to help prepare them for the migration as well.

    Some migrations from North America are particularly impressive, such as the Hawk migration, where kettles of Hawks and Vultures will cover the sky along Central America. At times these birds will travel in groups of up to 100,000, and cover long distances by using thermal currents. During migration these birds will use only their body fat reserves for energy and not eat any food until they reach their final destination in Patagonia.

    Some states, such as Wisconsin, share over 100 species of migratory birds with Central America: Northern Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks and Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are among some of the species returning to our backyards during spring migration.

    Unfortunately, research is indicating a decline in the population of some Neotropical migratory birds. While some of our beautiful birds fly south for the winter, we must remember that at least half of the bird population of North America, which are resident species, will stay to deal with very difficult weather conditions and many will suffer from starvation, freezing conditions or will become food for other surviving predator species.


    You can help. Remember that birds need three essential elements; food, water and cover.  Keep your feeders filled with nutritional ingredients including high energy, high fat seeds (link) such as black oil sunflower.  You may also consider supplementing cold weather blends or suet into their diet to provide them with even more energy during the cold winter months.  If you live in an area where water freezing is inevitable, consider a water heater or de-icer to provide your birds with fresh water.  And finally, by providing food and water by an area that is covered with trees and bushes, your birds will have a much safer habitat, keeping them protected from hazardous weather conditions and potential predators.   

    Important Migration Facts

    Migration MagDistance. The travel distance among the different species of birds varies from several hundred miles to thousands of miles. The Common Tern, known to travel as far as 16,000 miles,  has one of the longest migrations among migrant birds. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, our smallest migrant bird with an average weight: 1/8 ounce (3.1 g), and normal speed of 30 mph (48 kph) makes a nonstop flight of 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico twice each year!

    Height and speed. Three-quarters of songbirds migrate at an altitude of between 500 and 2,000 feet, but some Geese and Vultures have been observed as high as 29–37,000 feet (above mountains). A Mallard once struck a plane at 21,000 feet and holds the record for altitude in North America. As for speed, 90% of migrating birds fly at airspeeds between 15 and 45 miles per hour.

    Navigation. Birds regularly use the stars, the sun, and the earth’s magnetism for navigation. We now believe that some use infrasound emitted by mountains and other large topographic features.

    Timing. The vast majority of birds, including songbirds, shorebirds, and some waterfowl, migrate at night when it is cooler, the air is calmer, and there are fewer predators. Nighttime migration also allows them to feed during the daytime. A small proportion of birds fly by day, including Geese and Cranes. Birds like Hawks and Vultures soar on thermal currents of air formed as the sun heats the earth.

    Fuel. Birds fuel their migration with body fat. In addition to having twice the energy of carbohydrates and protein, fat is lighter and less bulky. In preparation for migration, birds build fat reserves up to 50% of their body weight. This why it is very important to continue to feed the birds during the spring and summer!

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