Feeding birds in winter isn’t necessarily a good thing and at least one study has shown that birds lay lower numbers of eggs when fed well, perhaps due to an unnatural unbalanced oil-rich diet: https://blog.nature.org/science/2015/01/05/winter-bird-feeding-good-or-bad-for-birds However, there are many studies showing the opposite. But is good winter survival and artificially high populations necessarily a good thing apart from entertaining us and increasing awareness of the natural world. Then there’s the spread of disease at bird feeders as with the greenfinch (grønnfink) in the UK (populations plummeted and bird feeders no doubt contributed to the spread). That birds are discouraged from migrating and stay in the same area year round can also lead to greater exposure to disease. But what about the production of bird food? That happens often in large fields, mostly using conventional BigAg non-organic systems which directly impacts local bird populations by pesticides and habitat loss. Here in Norway, little of the bird feed is grown in-country. For these reasons, I try as far as possible to provide natural food for the birds so that they can find alternatives and I can delay putting out food as long as possible. Home grown apples are put out for the thrushes, I tidy seed heads in spring and nettle seeds loved by finches are allowed to hang all winter. Local grain can also be put out for yellowhammers (gulspurv). In the case of goldfinches (stillits), their main food is burdock (borre) and I have introduced Arctium lappa (greater burdock / storborre) to my garden for them and greenfinches (grønnfink). However, at this time of year they tend to move over to the birdfeeder. Here’s a couple of videos from the weekend of these beautiful birds that once were rare in this part of Norway, but are becoming more common each year. See other goldfinch posts here: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?s=goldfinch
I grow burdock (borre) in the garden both as a vegetable but also for the birds. Goldfinches / stillits (still relatively rare in my area) eat almost exclusively the seeds of this plant in winter. This year I cut down a few of the plants and placed them in a large pot of earth right in front of the kitchen window…and 4 birds discovered it today. How they avoid the burrs attaching to them is a mystery….
Some of the seed burrs had fallen to the ground in a storm a week ago. This video starts with siskins feeding next to the window on birch seeds:
Sitting at my desk this morning I noticed the winter’s first goldfinch (stillits) sitting having a scratch in a tree in the garden (first video)….and the rest of the flock of more than 10 birds were feeding on burdock (borre) in the garden. The first ever large flocks of goldfinches started overwintering in my area in my garden in 2003 and have been a regular feature ever since, attracted to seed of burdock which I’ve been growing as vegetables in the garden for many years! Nowadays this bird has established itself in the lowlands around the Trondheimsfjord! This is another reason why winter is the most beautiful time of year here, despite the loss of direct sunshine for several weeks!