Ask the Expert

Bird watching

Q: Watching birds outside our window throughout the winter would be wonderful. What are some tips for attracting birds to our backyard and setting up a successful feeding environment that would keep them happy (and coming back) all winter?

Winter bird feeding is easy and fun, but you may find it somewhat addictive. The antics and habits of our feathered friends can be quite entertaining. There are many options for food and feeders, so do a little research on the birds you may see in your area. I suggest you buy the best food you can afford to avoid the fillers found in some commercial mixes, which will be brushed aside. Look for Alaska-specific foods as your first choice. A simple tube feeder is a good place to start, and they can be found at local garden and pet supply stores or stores like Fred Meyer. They are usually hung from a tree, pole or deck where they can be seen easily. Offering suet (a high-energy feed for wild birds) in a small wire cage feeder works well too.

In addition to offering purchased seeds and nuts, it’s a good idea to garden with native plants that are attractive to birds for shelter and food. A heated dog dish with clean water will be a good attractant too.

November 1 is the recommended starting date for setting out feeders, and April 15 is the usual day to put them away. These dates are only guidelines, and they are not a guarantee. It’s best to wait until there are few-to-no bear reports coming in to the authorities. People can now report bear sightings/bear issues online at www.adfg.alaska.gov. There's a button on the home page called "Report a Wildlife Encounter." The guidelines for what to post are there, but basically we want to hear about human-wildlife conflicts and brown bears in neighborhoods, but not necessarily every black bear sighting in town.

For more information, visit these great resources for learning about birds:

Winter bird feeding in Alaska:
www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbirds.winterfeeding
www.alaskabg.org/winter-bird-feeding

Online guide to identifying birds:
www.allaboutbirds.org

Patrick Ryan is the Education Specialist at the Alaska Botanical Garden and an Alaskan Master Gardener. He is a Junior Master Garden Specialist and a retired teacher. He is a member of the Anchorage Community Forest Council and sits on the board for Alaska Agriculture in the Classroom.