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During harsh Michigan winters, feeders are literal lifesavers for native birds

January 5 is National Bird Day and 13 is On Your Side with everything you need to know if you're new to attracting wild birds to your home.
Credit: 13 ON YOUR SIDE/Matt Gard

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Brrr! It's cold outside. And while many people are able to stay warm by staying inside during the winter, every day is a fight to survive in the elements for native bird populations in Michigan.

Our state is home to dozens of species that stay here year round regardless of how cold it gets. They include chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, blue jays, titmice and several species of woodpeckers. Those birds stand a much better chance of making it to spring if they get some help from humans.

When snow covers the ground, it covers up natural food sources for many bird species, and that's when well-stocked bird feeders come in handy for our feathered friends. Those feeders can quite literally be the difference between life and death for many year-round birds.

Different types of bird food attract different types of birds. For instance, blue jays and woodpeckers tend to love peanuts, while sunflower seeds are favorite of chickadees, cardinals, finches and sparrows. Project Feeder Watch has a guide on its website that may help you if you've never put up a bird feeder before.

If you're putting up a feeder, you'll also want to clean it regularly. This helps prevent the spread of diseases that can sicken and kill your favorite backyard birds. The Michigan DNR has provided a helpful video with tips on how to do that.

While you're feeding the birds and watching them outside your window, you can also help scientists track their populations and migration patterns in your area. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has created a tool called eBird, which allows you to report sightings in your backyard and beyond. This data helps scientists and conservation workers in their efforts to protect our native species.

If you don't know how to identify the birds in your backyard, you can download the free Merlin Bird ID app. You can upload your photos and the app will provide suggestions about what species your bird might be. It also comes with a sound ID feature where you can record bird calls and songs and have the app analyze those sounds to come up with a probable identification.

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