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From Backyards to Backwoods: Bird feeders are source of nutrition for winter birds

A purple finch poses on a branch , snow bedecking its tiny body. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

I just want you to know that right now our hummingbirds, loons, and orioles are basking in the southern sun while we sit in the frigid North Country. You do realize that we're only three or four hours (by air) from Arizona, Texas, or Florida. That's where some of our backyard birds and our snowbirds have flocked to for the winter months. We, on the other hand, have chosen to stay here. That says something about us Minnesotans - I'll let you decide what.

The birds that are staying with us are now into their winter-feeding patterns. No longer can they rely on a diet of insects and nature's variety of foods. Our bird feeders are going to be their main source of nutrition for many weeks to come. Birds can pick up bacteria from unclean feeders, mold from old, damp seed, and parasites from platform feeders where birds congregate and leave their droppings. Be aware of these things and keep your feeding stations clean.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has probably conducted as much research on birds as anyone. You can get all kinds of helpful hints for keeping your backyard birds safe this winter by visiting their web site at You can also join Project Feeder Watch by going to

If your birdfeeders are spread around the yard, consider placing them close to the house for winter. It makes for better viewing and gives you the opportunity to photograph the birds as they come and go. You can get acceptable photos right through your window if the glass is clean and you pay attention to lighting. You may have to turn off an inside light or the flash on your camera to do away with reflections. One nice thing about a digital camera is that you can view your results immediately. Try shooting straight through the glass and then try from a slight angle. Do you notice a difference? It also helps to have your camera mounted on a tripod and pre-focused on the feeding area. I would be interested in hearing about your attempts and seeing your results.

Some of us are discussing the possibility of having the Enterprise host a nature photo contest this winter. Details can be worked out over the next few weeks, but we have to know if there is interest from our readers. We could have divisions for amateurs, professionals, and youth. It could be limited to backyard birds or categories for other wildlife species and scenery could be included.

Call Sarah at 732-3364 or e-mail me at sdmaanum@ with your feelings on the subject. After all, as long as we are staying to enjoy all our favorite winter activities, we might as well try our hand at nature photography.

The Enterprise will post all photo entries on its online outdoors photo gallery.

Here's one final thought. Do you suppose anyone in Arizona, Texas, or Florida is thinking they are only 3-4 hours (by air) from a northern Minnesota lake where they could be ice fishing right now?