What type of peanut butter is OK to feed birds? How do I create “winter thickets” for birds? What is this weird bird in my backyard?!
Each month, Birds & Blooms readers send in their burning questions to birding experts, Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, who are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world.
Got a bird question for Kenn and Kimberly? Submit your questions here! They may appear here or in a future issue of the magazine.
Question: What type of peanut butter should I feed to birds? —Beth Mucci of Swanzey, New Hampshire
Kenn and Kimberly: Peanut butter is a good high-protein food for birds, and they eat any of the same types humans do. If you’re buying it specifically for birds, look for natural or organic types with the fewest additives. It’s best to avoid low-fat varieties, which may not have as much nutritional value for the birds. And if you offer peanut butter stuffed into holes in a log-type feeder, be sure to clean it out thoroughly before refilling it so mold won’t grow on the remains of older contents. (Read more: 10 Things You Aren’t Feeding Birds Yet)
Question: How do I create “winter thickets” where birds can roost or take cover during the cold? —Jeff Jackson of St. Louis, Missouri
Kenn and Kimberly: It’s a good idea to create winter shelter for backyard birds, and there are several different ways you can do it. Evergreen trees and shrubs are ideal, especially if you avoid trimming off the lower branches. Hedges or groups of native shrubs work, too; dogwood, sumac and native roses are good examples. For a quick start, build a brush pile in a quiet corner. Stack fallen branches, garden cuttings, discarded Christmas trees and other plant material in a crosshatched pattern to create an inviting shelter for many kinds of birds. (Read more: How to Help Birds in Winter)
Question: Hawks occasionally stop by our backyard. What kind is this? —Dick and Anne Smith of Girard, Ohio
Kenn and Kimberly: This is an adult Cooper’s hawk. Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are the two species most likely to stalk songbirds at feeders, and these two are very similar. Adults of both have blue-gray backs and pale reddish barring on the chest. Cooper’s is larger, but size can be difficult to judge. The main point we see here is the blackish cap, contrasting with a paler gray nape—the sharp-shinned hawk has a smoother blue-gray color from the forehead to the back of the neck. The sharp-shinned also has a smaller head and its eyes look bigger by comparison, creating a different facial expression. (Read more: 6 Must-Visit Hawk Migration Hot Spots)