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Extreme cold is a tough time for birds

The severe cold and heavy snowfall of recent days may cause some to worry about birds finding food and shelter, but local experts say birds will find both, even without the help of bird feeders.

Blaine County Extension agent Mike Schuldt said people don't need to feed the birds when it gets really cold outside unless they have been feeding them already.

Wild animals are able to find their own food, and if a bird has survived to this point, it probably has found a supply of food, Schuldt said. The food might be in protected areas under shrubs or brush where there is less snowpack and ice.

"It's no cause for alarm. Don't go out and start feeding the birds because you're concerned," he said. "If they've lasted this long, they probably have identified a food source."

But if a bird gets used to being fed, it will need the food to continue, he added.

"Like all wildlife, if you start providing any kind of supplemental food, they become dependent," Schuldt said. "If you have been putting a bird feeder out, it becomes kind of important to continue."

The dependence on a bird feeder becomes even more critical during times of extreme cold, he said. If the bird loses a source of food, like a bird feeder, that will cause stress for the animal.

"In this weather, especially, you want to prevent stress," he said. "In below-zero weather you have to kick the starch and the energy up a little."

John Maatta, Liberty County Extension agent, said that when the birds aren't eating they will be in sheltered areas like shrubs, brush or open barns or buildings.

"You'll definitely find some there, just trying to get out of the cold," he said.

Jean Shrauger of Havre said the birds are eating more seed from her bird feeders during times of extreme cold, but that she doesn't actually see them very often.

"I think they just come, eat quickly and go find a place that's warm," she said.

She said she likes helping the birds get through the winter.

"It doesn't hurt to throw out a little bit of eed," Shrauger said.

She and her husband, Sam, have been feeding birds for several years. They started after their children bought them a bird feeder as an anniversary gift. They benefit from the hobby as much as the birds so, enjoying watching them as they eat.

"There were so many different kinds," Jean Shrauger said. "We got a book to look them up and see what they were and where they came from."

Shrauger said they have seen many beautiful birds, some of which don't seem to stay in the area very long. Her favorites are bluebirds.

Ray Reid of Chinook said he has been using bird feeders for several years, and usually sees about eight or 10 different kinds of birds each year.

"I've got quite a variety," he said. "I watch them with the field glasses once in a while."

Maatta said the kind of birds attracted to a feeder seems to depend on what kind of feed is put out and the type of feeder.

Most birds in this area prefer smaller seeds and sunflower seeds, he said.

Ben Lavell, who works at Big R in Havre, said the store has been selling a lot more bird seed since the cold weather hit.

"From about two months ago, two or three months ago, it's really picked up," he said.

Jim Malone, manager of Fleet Wholesale Supply in Havre, said he hasn't noticed sales pick up in the last few days, but that the store does sell a lot of bird seed during the winter.

"I think most people already have it," he said. "There are a lot of people using bird seed in the wintertime."

Howard Rowin said he uses bird feeders near his house, but hasn't seen any birds for a couple of weeks.

"I've got feeders out there full of bird seed, but not a bird to be seen," he said. "I think they all went south."

Different birds use the feeder at different times of the year, Rowin said. He sees varieties in the spring and summer he doesn't see later in the year. Some kinds of birds that were using the feeder a lot during the fall disappeared once the snow fell, he said.


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