Winter is a tough time for birds. To help our feathered friends survive winter, here are the three most important things we can do to help them.
Birds need a sheltered spot, shielded from wind and rain, where they are protected from predators. To stay warm, some species grow extra feathers. Others fluff up their feathers, trapping air to serve as additional insulation. Some find warmth in numbers, roosting together at night. Chickadees, house sparrows, woodpeckers and wrens are just a few of the types of birds that roost in nest boxes.
Other roosting possibilities include evergreen trees and shrubs, densely-branched shrubs, and brush piles. The twining, congested woody stems of a chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) are a favorite roosting spot in my yard.
Provide food in a variety of feeders.
Birds need to consume additional calories to stay warm. By mid-winter, natural sources of seed heads and berries have been depleted or may be covered with snow. Feeders offer birds consistent nutrition. Black-oil sunflower seeds attract a wide variety of birds, and peanuts are another flock favorite. Both are packed with protein. Finches prefer Nyjer seed.
I prefer waste free seed to guard against thousands of weed seedlings sprouting up in spring. Birds need fatty food too, so offer suet or peanut butter. If squirrels are uninvited guests at feeders, try safflower seeds. Experts report squirrels do not find them appetizing. I wish my squirrels would listen to the experts instead of eating them like candy.
Put out a variety of feeders in your bird buffet. Nyjer seeds need a special feeder to hold their petite size. Tray feeders are favored by cardinals. Woodpeckers prefer clinging to the side of their food source. Mourning doves would rather forage for seeds on the ground.
And, once you start feeding birds, don’t stop. They will come to depend on your hospitality.
A lack of water is a major risk to birds in winter. Water is not only important for them to drink but also to clean their feathers. Clean feathers insulate better than dirty ones. Birds in my yard have a constant source of water at our pond. We keep a pump and a pond heater running for aeration and to keep an opening in the ice for the koi. Birds sit on the edge of the ice dipping their bills for a drink. If you don’t have a pond, purchase a heated birdbath or add a heater to your existing birdbath.
The next time you are tempted to grumble about the cold and snow of winter, consider the birds. Then get up and leave the warmth of your home to fill their feeders. Garden with me!