The garden is a place to work the soil, coax vegetables and other plants out of the ground, and relax in the shade. It’s also a place to go for a swim, host outdoor parties, and decorate as we see fit. While we enjoy the beauty of a summer backyard, we can’t help but notice the songs of robins, cardinals, and other birds that make use of our green space. Keep an eye on the backyard, and we can watch those same birds along with woodpeckers, doves, chickadees, and other species, especially if we have bird feeders and bird baths.
When the leaves fall and the temperature begins to drop, orioles, vireos, wood-warblers, and other summer birds leave for warmer climes. They are, in turn, replaced by sparrows, juncos, and other species that breed far to the north. Although the winter can be harsh in the northern United States and southern Canada, the snow and ice is still a far cry from the Arctic conditions of the boreal zone. Many of our winter birds breed in those vast spruce and pine forests of the northern wilderness and this makes them somewhat adapted to cold weather. Nevertheless, grosbeaks, redpolls, nuthatches, other boreal species, and our resident garden birds could still use help as they ride out the cold months.
There are a number of things we can do to make things a bit easier for the birds that visit a snow-covered backyard. Try these tips to see more action at the winter feeder, and enjoy the beauty of birds during the next two or three months:
Keep the feeder stocked: The easiest way to keep birds coming to a winter backyard is by providing them with plenty of food. As we might imagine, winter isn’t the easiest time of the year for birds to find something to eat. Resources are scarce and although woodpeckers and most other species are adept at finding seeds, nuts, and insects hidden beneath the bark, this doesn’t mean that survival is easy during cold weather. Some birds make it and some don’t but the ones that do may have to forage over a large area to find enough food.
When we put a feeder in the backyard, and keep it stocked on a daily basis, this acts as a constant, reliable food source, and in doing so, probably helps several birds make it through the winter. They don’t waste as much energy because they don’t need to move as far, they have enough food for survival, and we can be entertained by their cheerful colors and sounds on the bleakest of winter days.
Try suet: “Suet” is basically pork fat and some winter birds love it. It acts as an excellent source of much needed energy and is eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and jays. Since suet is a byproduct, it’s also cheap and easy to obtain from butcher shops. Bacon fat can act as an alternative to suet and is just as relished by the birds as it is by many people. Suet can be offered to birds by placing it in a small wire cage or on a small wooden platform. Make sure to put it where it is visible so we can watch the birds from the warmth of the home.
Shelter for the birds: Our avian friends don’t just need food to make it through the winter. They also need a place to take shelter from the snow as well as from hawks and other predators. Adequate shelter can come in the form of a brush pile, thick bushes, or even an old Christmas tree.
What about squirrels?: Many people have tried many solutions, some work, some don’t, and squirrels seem to eventually always find a way to get to that seed. To make things easier, we might just want to feed them too. If not, start with a squirrel baffle below the feeder.
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