Do you want more birds around your yard this winter? Create a habitat with water, food sources, nesting sites and cover from predators. Pay special attention to providing fresh water and food during the coldest months.
You can supply food by offering plants with seeds that persist through the winter months or by filling feeders. Birds depend on many varieties of native plants for nutrition; good choices include chokeberry, bayberry, sumac, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, and coreopsis.
If putting out supplemental food, opt for high-quality offerings such as black-oil sunflower seed, which attracts the widest variety of seed-eating birds. Safflower is another good choice and is a favorite of cardinals, grosbeaks, chickadees, and native sparrows. This seed works well in tray and hopper feeders, which cardinals and grosbeaks prefer. Finches are attracted to black Nyger seed. Avoid feed mixes with a high percentage of golden millet, red millet, or flax, among others. These are often used as ‘filler’ seed and most birds shun them. They make a mess on the ground and can breed bacteria and fungus if uneaten.
Squirrels can be a major nuisance and may steal all of the seed if allowed to. If feeders are installed on a pole, or hanging down, baffles can be mounted either above or below them to make it more difficult to access. Make sure posts are at least 5ft. tall and 7-8 feet from surrounding trees or structures; otherwise, squirrels will launch themselves and gain access. There are a wide variety of feeders designed to deter squirrels.
Lack of fresh water can be even more problematic than lack of food. Birds can eat snow, but it takes more energy to warm it to body temperature than it does to drink unfrozen water. Water is important for hydration, and also helps birds preen their feathers. Preening keeps feathers aligned in a way that insulates birds from the cold.
Birds may have to fly great distances in winter to find open water. We can help by providing a heated birdbath or adding a heating element to an existing birdbath.
Invite birds to winter in your yard with a few small changes in plant choices and feeding and watering practices. Not only will the birds be enjoyable to watch, but you may also better their chances of survival.