Even though the days are getting cold and gloomy, there are still neat things to see — even in your own back yard — if you look closely. Many birds and other animals stay in Illinois for the winter, even though there are many who migrate, and it can liven up your winter to attract them to your yard. The Downy Woodpecker pictured above is just one of many species native to Illinois, and you can have quite a zoo in your back yard if you use the necessary supplies.
Seeds are critical for birds during the winter, because food becomes scarcer the colder it gets. Different kinds of seeds will attract different birds, however.
The most common kind of birdseed is sunflower seeds. They attract quite a few birds, since they're versatile and energy-packed. Some bird species you will see if you put out sunflower seeds are finches, sparrows, cardinals, chickadees, mourning doves and juncos. Sunflower seeds are about a half-inch long, and birds usually crack the shell to get to the nut inside. There definitely will be a layer of cracked sunflower shells under your birdfeeder if you use these, but eventually they disintegrate into the soil. The mess is worth it since you attract so many different species of bird.
Another kind of birdseed is the thistle seed. This seed is a lot smaller than a sunflower seed, and it tends to look like tiny black sticks. Thistle seeds attract smaller birds such as finches and chickadees, and they go best in a small feeder with holes the birds can peck into. The most notable thing about thistle seeds, however, is that they attract goldfinches. Goldfinches are finches that are bright yellow in the warmer months, although they still retain some semblance of their color during the winter. They tend to be a more muted gold in the winter, so they still add a splash of color to your yard, just as cardinals do.
Corn and peanuts
Other things you can feed your backyard birds are corn and peanuts. These will also attract larger animals like chipmunks and squirrels. If you want to specifically attract squirrels, you can leave a shucked corncob out for them to eat, preferably on an elevated place like a stump. Many garden departments in stores sell dried corncobs, and these are the best to feed squirrels. In addition to squirrels, peanuts and corn will attract larger birds such as jays, crows, grackles and starlings. Peanuts and corn kernels are best kept on a small platform or in a feeder that has large enough holes for the kernels and nuts to slip through. You can also scatter them under your birdfeeder, and many of the larger birds will sit under the birdfeeder and eat them there.
One last thing to attract birds that is not a seed is suet. Suet is a rectangle of raw meat fat, and you can put it in a special cage called a suet feeder (this is the feeder pictured above). Suet attracts birds such as woodpeckers and flickers.
It's easy to liven up your back yard with all these different bird foods, and if you watch out your back window, you'll be amazed at the species you will see.