Q What's the best thing I can do to help birds in winter?

A Offer them water in a heated birdbath. Birds generally can find enough food and adequate shelter, but they often have to search long and hard for open water.

Q What's the best birdseed?

A Black-oil sunflower is the best all-around seed. It appeals to the most species of birds and its relatively soft shell can be opened by a wide range of birds, from tiny chickadees to big-beaked cardinals.

Q What other kinds of foods appeal to birds in the winter?

A Finches adore nyjer seed, an expensive import that can be extended with sunflower chips.

Woodpeckers go crazy for shelled peanuts. But be careful when feeding with peanuts. Wet peanuts can get moldy and sicken birds.

Suet is a high-energy treat that many birds enjoy. Buy it at the meat counter or get suet cakes at bird stores. Birds can go through suet quickly in cold weather, but think of it as providing a winter coat -- of life-sustaining fat -- for your back-yard buddies.

Q I can get a good deal on mixed seed at the supermarket. Do birds eat this stuff?

A Cheaper mixes usually aren't much of a bargain, since birds ignore "filler" seeds. Instead of cheeping out, buy mixes from a wild-bird store or make your own: pour 10 pounds of black oil sunflower seed into a large container, then add 2½ pounds each of white millet and cracked corn. Mix with a stick and you'll have a high-quality seed mix.

Q Why won't some birds -- such as bluebirds, waxwings and robins -- come to my feeders?

A These birds really aren't seed-eaters, but they might visit your feeders if you offer soaked dried fruits such as raisins.

Q Do birds eat snow?

A Yes, if they can't find water. But turning snow into liquid eats up valuable calories.

Q Will my birds starve if feeders are empty while I'm on vacation in February?

A No, they won't. Except on the worst weather days, birds get less than 25 percent of their calories from bird feeders. The rest comes from wild food sources.

Q We toss bread and other scraps out for the birds, but one of our neighbors say this is a bad idea.

A Bread doesn't provide much nutrition for birds and it lures starlings and other undesirable birds, as well as rodents. So, feeding bread scraps isn't such a great idea.

Q What can I do about squirrels attacking feeders?

A The one downside to feeding birds is this cunning, four-legged fiend that seems to never give up its quest for a meal.

Don't make it easy for them by hanging feeders from branch tips or near trees or structures, which are convenient launch pads for these high-jump champs. You also can distract squirrels by placing a 5-gallon pail on its side away from feeders and tossing a quart of corn kernels in the pail every day. The squirrels will occupy themselves with the pail and maybe will leave your feeders alone.

Val Cunningham, a St. Paul nature writer, can be reached at valwrites@comcast.net.