FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) This time of year when temperatures are in the single digits, song birds need our help.

To survive the winter, these backyard friends need food, water and shelter, Jonas Thor, general manager of Wild Birds Unlimited, said Wednesday.

Why? They burn a “tremendous amount of energy trying to stay warm,” Thor said.  “They need an excess of fat and protein to survive the winter.”

In warmer months, song birds feed on insects and bugs, including mosquitoes, pollinate flowers and plants and are beneficial to fruit trees, Thor said. Birds are also beautiful to look at.

“Song birds are incredible to watch. Bird feeding as a hobby is an excellent opportunity to watch. It’s their song, their color, their beauty. They’re good all the way around,” Thor said.

A blue jay is seen on a feeder (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Cornell University’s Cornell Lab of Ornithology published a study estimating that the breeding bird population in the U.S. and Canada dropped by nearly 30% since 1970. More than one in four birds have disappeared, the study reported, or nearly 3 billion birds.

Thor recommends putting out bird seed with a high content of fat and protein like peanuts, sunflower seeds and a new product called Nutrasaff. Nutrasaff is in the safflower family and has a thinner shell. Suet nuggets are an option bird enthusiasts can hang from a feeder and offer a variety of bird feed including peanut butter, seed and calcium, Thor said.

Some feed has hot pepper in it to discourage mammals like squirrels and raccoons who can barely tolerate the spice while small birds don’t seem to notice, Thor said.

To discourage starlings and blackbirds, Thor recommends putting out safflower seed which appeals to smaller birds.

“They are pack hunters so they come in a gang, so if they don’t find anything attractive, (they’ll leave,)” Thor said.

Birds nest in bushes, trees and in man made housing – somewhere that “as soon as the freezing season is over, the birds will forage and nest and lay eggs.”

Water is also crucial to birds, but putting out a cup of water in below freezing temperatures only helps until the water freezes. There are heaters available for bird baths to make offering water easier, Thor said.