Birds that decide to stay put instead of wintering in warmer haunts need our help to thrive in the cold weather ahead. In return for food, shelter and water, they repay our generosity with their songs, color and entertaining exploits.
A bird-friendly garden is planted in layers. Large evergreens and shade trees form the top layer; understory trees and sizeable shrubs fashion the next level; small shrubs and large ornamental grasses make up the following tier; and perennials and ground covers craft the bottom layer.
Large evergreens and shade trees provide shelter from predators and winter storms and also supply food. Woodpeckers and chickadees dine on the seeds of pine cones. Oak, hickory and walnut trees offer nuts.
The persistent berries of crabapples, hollies and chokeberries satisfy the appetites of cardinals, finches, blue jays and more. Left standing for the winter, native ornamental grasses like switch grass and little bluestem not only add architecture to the winter landscape, they also serve up seeds for feathered friends.
Many varieties of perennials produce seeds to nourish birds in winter. Goldfinches and chickadees perch on spent flowers and nibble on seeds; juncos and sparrows prefer to eat seeds that have fallen to the ground. Black-eyed Susan, blazing star, coneflowers, coreopsis, goldenrod, ironweed and Joe-Pye weed are seed-bearing favorites.
Bird feeders supplement cuisine found in the landscape. Place feeders near tree branches or large shrubs to afford birds an escape route from predators. Multiple feeders allow you to attract a variety of birds and prevent overcrowding.
Read labels on packages of seed to determine quality. Check for specific ingredients and the percentages of each. Sunflower and safflower seeds, corn, and peanuts satisfy most songbirds. Finches favor Nyjer seed.
I purchase waste free seed mixes. They are more expensive but, after one spring of unending weeds under my feeders, they are worth every penny.
Suet is an important portion of many avian diets. Suet is concentrated animal fat infused with seeds, nuts or fruit. Purchase suet or make your own – there are countless recipes online. Hang suet feeders at least five feet from the ground. Blue jays, chickadees, woodpeckers and wrens cling to suet feeders as they feed on suet cakes.
Once you begin filling your feeders, keep them filled. It is especially important when natural food sources are exhausted in late winter.
A clean source of water is critical to the survival of birds. They need water to drink and to keep their feathers clean. Clean feathers offer more insulation than dirty ones. The pond in my backyard offers a consistent supply of water for my birds. If you are pondless, buy a deicer for your current birdbath or buy a separate heated birdbath. If neither of these options is possible, put out a shallow dish of fresh water every day.
Show the birds who call your backyard home a little love this winter. Garden with me!