This is the time of year when we can share our “bounty” with those around us, including our feathered friends living outside our homes and in our neighborhoods. The birds you see in these cold winter months are those who have decided to stay in the area—either as permanent residents or winter tourists—and a little kindness can go a long way.
Keep bird feeders full
Food availability is very limited for non-migratory birds when the weather turns cold. Many kinds of bird seed mixes are sold including some regional blends. Black-oil sunflower seed, in particular, has a high meat-to-shell ratio and high fat content, and its small size and thin shell make it easy for small birds to handle and crack. (Striped sunflower seeds are larger and have thicker seed coats.) In addition, high-energy suet provides a quick source of energy and a great substitute for the protein-rich insects that are hard to find in winter.
Position feeders and birdbaths for safety.
Feeders and birdbaths should be located either within 3 feet of the window or at least 30 feet from the window, so that birds startled when feeding (by a hawk for example) are less at risk for fatal collisions. Placement near escape cover, such as trees and bushes, is also recommended.
Keep water available.
Birds need the water at this time of year when most natural sources may be frozen. Depending on the climate, this can mean simply adding warm water to the birdbath occasionally, using a pump to keep water moving in an artificial pond, or purchasing a birdbath heater.
Leave the landscape as natural as possible. When planting, choose native plants and shrubbery to provide roosting places. If your locale and property permit, pile old shrubbery, branches and logs to provide extra cover. Don't take in your birdhouses in the winter. Leave them in place so birds can use them for shelters from the cold.
Keep cats indoors.
It is safer for them and for the birds.
Get to know your backyard wild neighbors by going on an adventure around your own yard in the snow. Try to identify different species by looking at tracks and other signs they leave behind, such as partial remains of food like cracked nuts or twigs. Buy a good wildlife tracking guide—or give one as a gift—to learn more and to better appreciate these wild neighbors.