How to Help Birds Survive the Winter
Our backyard feathered friends can use our help during the bone-chilling cold weather.
Winter has just begun and it has already proven to be brutal across our region. Record low temperatures and bomb cyclones in the deep South have us piling on coats, hats, and gloves that we haven't worn in years. While you are layering on the warmth however, don't forget about your feathered friends outside. Many birds, such as hummingbirds, head south before cold weather hits, while others, like the beautiful Northern Cardinal, choose to winter at home. If you spend your summer months feeding and watching your backyard birds, then realize they need your attention even more during the bone-chilling days of winter. Here are five ways you can keep your backyard birds healthy this season.
Keep Seed Dry and Accessible
Tube feeders or the classic hopper feeders help protect seed from wet weather. Always make sure they are clean and free of fungus, mold, ants, etc. before refilling them. Keep platform feeders clear of snow and ice so the feed isn't buried underneath, and clear a place on the ground so you can scatter seed for ground-feeding species such as doves and sparrows.
Don't Forget Sheltered Areas
Some birds prefer to stay in secure places, such as thickets or under bushes, instead of venturing out into the open to a feeder. Scatter seed along hedges and bushes, under your deck, and along the borders of wooded areas.
Offer High-Energy Foods
Fat gives birds that much-needed extra energy to get through the hard winter months. Foods such as suet and peanut butter provide additional fat and are good supplements to regular feed. (Some people worry that birds will choke on sticky peanut butter. There's no evidence that they really do, but eliminate any risk and worry by mixing peanut butter with corn meal or oatmeal.) Make your own bird suet for a fraction of the cost of commercial suet and, if you don't have a wire suet feeder, use a mesh onion bag and hang it from a tree branch. Another option is to simply mix peanut butter (creamy or crunchy, our feathered friends love both) with cornmeal or oatmeal and dab the mixture along the petals of a pinecone. Hang it from a tree branch or off your deck, then sit back and wait for the birds.
Prepare Your Birdhouses
Just as you have to prepare your own home for the winter weather, there are certain precautions to take with your birdhouses before cold weather hits to ensure adequate and warm protection. After the last nesting of the summer, layer your birdhouses with three or four inches of clean dried grass or wood shavings. To keep them even cozier, use removable weather stripping to plug the air vent holes in the houses. While good ventilation is vital during the summer months, the houses should provide shelter from the wind during the frigid temperatures of winter.
WATCH: What You Should Know About the Fall Migration of Hummingbirds
Don't Forget About Water
Some people believe that a bird will bathe in water even if it is very cold. The danger is that the water on the feathers might freeze before it dries, which could be fatal to the bird. To prevent any mishaps, place several large rocks in your birdbath. There will not be enough room for the bird to bathe, but he will still have access to drinking water. Remove the rocks once the weather warms up so the birds can take a bath.