Although we have been treated to a warmer-than-normal fall season this year, the days are growing shorter and the temperatures are beginning to drop. Our feathered friends are now busy preparing for the winter months ahead. Here are 7 ways that you can help them out.
1) Provide the Right Food
You can assist your local birds by providing them with easily accessible and easy-to-eat rich food. Do not worry about over-feeding at this time of the year. Keeping your feeder full will not stop birds from migrating (birds use light cues as a signal for when to migrate, not the availability of food). Feeders are only a supplement to natural food sources, but that little bit of extra food helps a lot. For migratory birds, feeders are important as they are a place to stop and refuel on their long journey.
For the many birds that stay here all year, fall is an important time for scouting out food sources. Some birds such as blue jays and nuthatches often take seeds from feeders and hide them away under leaves or in the bark of trees. As natural sources of food decline and temperatures begin to drop, more birds will be stopping at your feeder to take on the food and energy they need to keep their body temperatures warm.
2) Serve Suet
Suet is a high-energy formulation of fat and other ingredients that many birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees love. Suet is a quick source of heat and energy for birds, who are constantly working hard to keep their body temperatures up in the winter season. Suet has traditionally been used as a good substitute for the insects that birds usually feed upon but are not plentiful in colder weather. It is an excellent addition to your backyard feeding station that complements your seed feeders.
3) Clean Your Feeders
Late fall is also a great time to check your feeders for wear and tear and give them a good cleaning to remove any mold or seed buildup. Generally, feeders can be cleaned in hot water with dish soap. For extra cleaning, a mixture of 10 parts water and 1 part bleach can be used. Ensure that the feeder is well rinsed afterwards! A clean feeder is healthier for your birds and looks nicer too.
4) Have Water Available That Will Not Freeze
Birds need water as much or even more in the winter than in the summer and as temperatures dip below freezing, birds have difficulty getting the water they need. A heated birdbath provides an easily accessible and safe water source during the winter. A de-icing birdbath heats the water just enough to keep it from freezing and deactivates as the air temperature rises. Aside from a birdfeeder, a heated birdbath is the best way to attract birds in the winter.
5) Fill Your Feeders After Severe Cold & Storms
Bad weather can directly impact a bird’s ability to survive over the winter. During extreme cold, a bird has to divert much of its energy to just keeping warm instead of flying about locating food. A full feeder makes it that much easier for them. And the one time that it is absolutely critical to feed your birds is when an ice storm hits. During and after an ice storm food is in extremely short supply and the stresses on birds are elevated. It is times like this that birds need us humans the most.
6) Leave Your Leaves
In nature, leaves don’t get raked up and bagged. Instead, they remain on the ground all winter. This so-called ‘deadfall’ provides many benefits to your backyard birds. Wind-blown leaf piles and fallen twigs and branches can offer shelter for wintering birds. It becomes habitat to insects, worms and other creatures that birds feed on. Decomposing leaves also release nutrients into the soil helping your trees and shrubs to thrive which will continue to benefit your birds for years to come.
7) Prepare Winter Roosts
In a forest, there are countless cavities, holes and other cozy spots where a cold bird can find shelter. In our cities and towns, these are much harder to find. Providing a winter roost or even re-purposing a birdhouse can help to fill the gap.
If you want your birds to use your nest boxes as winter roosts, a few modifications are suggested. Clean out the previous season’s nests that have gotten damp or infested. Then layer about 3 or 4 inches of long-grass or wood shavings at the bottom of each house. (Do not use sawdust as it retains moisture.) You may also want to plug some of the air vent holes with flexible weather stripping to provide better insulation.
It is also helpful to place several roosting pockets around your backyard so as to provide the birds with a safe, dry and warm place to seek shelter during very cold or snowy evenings. Roosting pockets are simple bird shelters often made from natural grasses and twigs. They are not designed for nesting, only temporary shelter.
So take a few moments to consider how you can help your birds to prepare for the winter. As you sit cozy and warm by your fire, feel better knowing you’ve done your part to help your backyard birds survive and thrive.