Start feeding wild birds in December

A RED CARDINAL gains some sustenance on icicle-encrusted bird feeder in Middlebury Tuesday. This feeder is up a little earlier than the Dec. 1 date advised in order to ensure that bears are in their winter dens and won’t be foraging for food.

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and Audubon Vermont are urging Vermonters to prepare their bird feeders to put up around Dec. 1, the date recommended by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department to avoid attracting bears.
“Winter feeding is an opportunity to witness first-hand the array of bird life found near our homes,” said Doug Morin, Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s bird project leader. “But, in doing so, we need to wait until early December when most of Vermont’s black bears are normally in their dens.”
“With the first snowfall of the year blanketing the Green Mountain Audubon Center here in Huntington, the urge to put out our feeders is strong,” said Audubon Vermont Education Program Coordinator Debbie Archer, “but we urge folks to follow the recommendations from Vermont Fish and Wildlife to wait on putting out feeders to protect the bears that are thriving in Vermont.”
Vermont’s bear biologist, Forrest Hammond, says the availability of fall foods is the most important factor determining when bears go into their dens. “Pregnant sows tend to den earlier than the rest of the bear population,” said Hammond, “but, we urge folks who are feeding birds to be vigilant for signs of bears because they can re-emerge for short feeding forays if there is a period of warm weather. If you see bear tracks or bears are raiding bird feeders in your area, you need to take the feeders down until later.”
Hammond points out that bears are especially attracted to black oil sunflower seed and suet, and that they can smell both from very long distances. He also adds that a bear that learns to get food from people will continue to do so, potentially leading to property damage and dangerous encounters with people, which can result in the bear’s demise.
We offer these tips for successful bird feeding:
•  Make sure your feeders are free of potentially harmful bacteria and viruses by cleaning them with a 10 percent bleach solution and rinsing with water.
•  Place feeders far enough from windows to reduce the likelihood of birds colliding into them. Collisions are a major source of bird mortality each year. Feeders 4 to 10 feet away from windows cause the most problems as birds flush off a feeder and hit windows with a lot of speed.
•  Keep cats inside, as domestic cats kill thousands of birds each year, and bird feeders can make birds particularly easy prey for them.
“Audubon often gets asked for recommendations about how to feed birds and what to feed them,” said Audubon Vermont’s Communications Manager Gwendolyn Causer. “There are lots of great choices and this article from Audubon Magazine explains it beautifully:”
“While you’re watching your bird feeders this winter, there are three great opportunities to participate in a community science projects: the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and Feeder Watch. All three will help scientists understand how bird population numbers are changing and collect as much data as possible about our avian neighbors.”

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