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Since You Asked: Birds in winter can survive on nature's buffet

In the winter I see a lot more birds around my feeders. I guess that's because there is less food for them. If people don't feed them in winter, what's around that they do survive on?

— Tom C., Eagle Point

At the risk of sounding feather-brained, we went to two sources for your answer, Tom. To avoid ruffling any feathers, we made sure the answers were not in any particular pecking order.

Both sources agree there is natural food — from bugs to wild seeds — out there for our feathered friends to feed on throughout the year, albeit they noted this is a time when the weather can be tough on birds.

"There is lots of natural stuff out there for them to eat — insects, seeds," said Frank Lang of Ashland, professor emeritus of biology at Southern Oregon University and author of the book, "A Nature Notes Sampler," whose popular essays of natural history are aired on Jefferson Public Radio.

While cautioning that he is not an expert birder, Lang noted that indigenous — native — birds each have carved out a niche.

Over at Wild Birds Unlimited in Medford, owner Katy Reed agreed. Like Lang, she listed a virtual grocery list of food waiting out there for wild birds, including acorns, seeds from countless wild plants and fruits.

"There are natural foods out there they can get without people's help," she said, "but science has shown that where birds have access to bird feeder, they have a higher survival rate."

She recommends that people set out seed that is high in oil content this time of year.

Both remind us not to forget the little guys — hummingbirds which winter in the region.

"They may be here in small numbers but they need to eat to survive," Reed said. "Food that is one part sugar to four parts water is close to the natural source of nectar they find in the spring and summer."