If you love having birds in your garden all year-round, have a look at these tips for keeping them fed, safe, and happy as the snow comes down.
For more ideas, also see how to make a nesting box.
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Attract Wild Birds And Brighten Up Your Winter
Would you think I’m being melodramatic if I said I think having wild birds around in the winter saves human lives? Yes! But when you live in a climate where over half your year is cold and a snow storm can sneak up at any time, anything that brings natural cheer is very welcome indeed.
I can recall instances where one, brilliant, red male cardinal landing on the snow-covered bird feeder single-handedly erased any February blues I was wallowing in. And that’s why, if you only chose one time of year to feed the birds, winter is definitely it.
What Winter Birds Need
- They’re just like us! They need food, water, shelter and a reliable internet connection. (Just checking to see if you’re really reading this.)
- Create foraging opportunities and provide good quality bird seed
Best case scenario, there are seeds and berries to forage. I let most of my flowering perennials go to seed and don’t trim them back until the spring for this purpose: the birds will dine on them through the cold winter months.
For commercial wild bird food options, I always recommend finding a reputable shop specializing in wild bird care. They will help you make informed choices and find good quality food and other supplies such as birdhouses and birdfeeders that are safe and beneficial to the birds. There’s a lot of junk out there, people!
Setup Feeders For A Variety Of Different Birds
- Different birds use different types of feeders and eat different types of bird feed.
To attract a wide variety of winter birds, create several different feeding stations of various heights and styles. Let the big birds have their tall standing feeders, and give the smaller birds feeders that only accommodate their size and weights. The squirrels will decide which they prefer, whether you want them to or not.
Suet / UnSuet-Suet
- Quality matters
- Easy to make your own
Suet is high in calories and great fuel for warmth, but not all suet products are created equal. Again, a reputable wild bird feed shop should have high quality suet. Cheaper ones contain fillers such as millet that do not benefit the birds.
Alternately, you can make your own homemade “unsuet-suet”, using peanut butter instead of lard (here’s my easy recipe). It takes only moments to prepare and I can tell you with complete certainty that the birds absolutely love it. How do I know? Besides the fact that they come in droves to the garden as soon as I hang a fresh batch up, some of them actually tweet about it! A few whip out their camera phones and pin it.
For the actual suet feeder, I like the style (pictured above) because it extends below the suet cage, providing support for bird tails. The less energy they have to expend while eating, the better.
- Have fresh water available: keep it from freezing with an outdoor heater.
I keep a recirculating pump running vigorously in the bottom of my shallow pond to prevent the water from freezing. This not only keeps my fish safe (they go dormant instead of freezing), but the birds and other wildlife are able to access water any time. I love seeing the various paw prints and bird tracks in the snow around pond each morning.
You can also use birdbaths to provide fresh water if you include a electric or solar water heater and change the water regularly. Click here to see an example of a heated birdbath at Amazon. com.
- Provide trees and shrubs for natural shelter. Make sure birdhouses are safe.
The best shelter is, of course, trees and shrubs, where the birds can rest and stay away from frigid weather conditions.
Early nesters or small birds seeking warmth may also use birdhouses in the winter. If you keep birdhouses outside year round, Cornell Lab of Ornithology has very good information on the best choices for housing specific types of birds.
Most birdhouses are made for decorative purposes and are not actually safe or suitable for nesting birds—often trapping the fledglings inside (unable to reach the door) or designed without removable panels that enable seasonal cleaning. If you keep decorative ones outdoors, block off the doorways so there are no mishaps with unsuspecting birds.
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More Ideas For Attracting Winter Birds
Barb of Our Fairfield Home & Garden is a bird fanatic like me. She’s got lots of ideas for keeping the winter birds fed and happy at It’s Time To Feed The Birds.
Amy of A Healthy Life For Me took this gorgeous photo of a red-bellied woodpecker at her feeder.
And finally, Lynne of Sensible Gardening and Living suggests using your old Christmas tree as a feeding station in the garden when you’re done with it indoors. Secure it upright next to a fence and add a variety of treats for the winter birds.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛