It’s hard to believe that birds can survive out there in the elements. Feeding seeds, suet and providing ice-free water for them helps a lot. But birds usually take only about 25% of their food requirements from our bird feeders. The rest of the time, they are foraging for wild foods.
Attracting birds to your winter landscape will provide you with numerous opportunities to observe wild birds at close range. There is nothing better than natural, native vegetation to attract a wide variety of birds to your garden during the winter. Natural habitat and natural food sources have the advantage of not only providing food and shelter for birds.
To bring winter birds in closer for viewing, provide a food source adjacent to your home in the form of perennials planted in your garden that produce seed heads supplemented by bird seed in feeders. Providing a natural source of bird food is easy no matter what size yard you have. Once fall has arrived leave the flowers alone so the maturing flower heads can produce seeds. The seed-heads of perennials are nature’s bird feeders for seed-eating birds like sparrows, chickadees and grosbeaks, while the black seed of the purple coneflower serve as food for goldfinches. Forget about deadheading flowers. Let your vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and parsley go to seed; they provide a good food source. Leave the garden clean-up until spring. Even weeds, such as goldenrod, mullein and plantain will be helpful to birds if they’re allowed to flourish and aren’t mowed down. The birds that don’t migrate will be thankful.
Dense shelter gives birds a time out from cold, blowing winds during the day and a place to roost at night. If your lawn is a broad expanse of snow, it won’t help the birds. Evergreen shrubs provide excellent protection. Create a brush pile in a corner of your yard. Rather than disposing of fallen leaves and dead branches, put them in a pile to provide shelter. Start with a bed of raked up leaves and pine needles and then put your larger tree branches down. Then heap smaller branches on top, ending with cornstalks, grasses and other light vegetation. When the first snow falls, it will supply insulation over the pile. Birds will scratch through the leaves at the bottom for seeds and insect eggs without fear of exposure to predators and they can roost safely from owls and night-time predators up inside the branches.
Bird houses offer shelter for birds in the colder months. By fall, most birdhouses are crammed with nesting materials, including grasses, leaves, twigs, and mosses, as well feathers and other non-plant materials. Most birds won’t clean out houses – and prefer empty quarters in the spring when it’s time to lay their eggs – so it’s a job for the gardener. Bird houses need to be cleaned out once the babies fledge. Old nests harbor parasites and diseases, and few birds clean out the rubbish left by previous residents. Be sure to wear gloves when you undertake this task – a case of bird mites isn’t fun – and avoid breathing dust from the nest.
After cleaning out the house, disinfect it with a 10 percent bleach spray (1 part bleach to 9 parts water), then leave the house open a day or two to dry out. Chlorine oxidizes quickly, usually in 24 hours, so you don’t need to rinse the house. You do need to wash and rinse your hands when you’re done.
Offering water is the single most important resource you can give birds in winter. If you’ve never offered a source of water during winter, do so today. You’ll be rewarded with a wide variety of birds throughout the cold winter months. Not all birds will come to your feeders, but all birds need water. A heated bird bath will introduce you to birds you didn’t know were in your backyard during winter. Birds need water that they can safely get to for drinking and bathing. A filled birdbath is the easiest water source for thirsty birds. They come in a variety of styles and enhance the beauty of the garden. If you have ceramic or concrete birdbaths, clean and put them away in the fall; this protects them from damage caused by freezing temperatures. To provide water for winter birds, set up a ground-level birdbath on the south side of your home, or on a south-facing fence or hedge. They stay unfrozen longer than above-ground birdbaths and are easily made by placing a plastic tray or basin on the ground.
Heated birdbaths and de-icers make perfect gifts for the bird lover. Most bird watchers have bird houses and bird feeders. Far too few have a heated bird bath. Once you’ve experienced attracting birds this way, you’ll never want to be without one.
Check out our Heated Bird Baths and Bird Bath De-icers here.