Helping wild birds in winter – Do you need to help wild birds in winter? Or can they help themselves
Common sense tells us that of course, birds have survived for centuries without any human help during cold weather. In times past, people had a hard enough time surviving in the wilderness in sub-zero temperatures, let alone worry about wild birds and other animals.
But for those of us who love the wild things in the garden – the birds, squirrels, bats, bees, insects, possums and all living creatures – the freezing temperatures, snow, and ice have us worried about our wild friends. Helping wild birds in winter just makes sense.
Helping Wild Birds in Winter
If you love seeing birds in the garden and bird watching, these tips will help you help the wild birds in the winter.
- Tube feeders are, in my opinion, the best for feeding wild birds in the winter. The plastic tubes have holes with perches along the side so that birds can nibble seed from any opening they choose. They are filled from the top, so as the birds consume the seed, the level drops. I’ve found that they keep the seed dry the longest and seem to be well-attended by the birds.
- Add a variety of food sources for birds. Birds eat a variety of foods including different types of plant seeds, worms, fruit and more. Adding black oil sunflower seeds to store-bought bird seed attracts colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays. A suet block feeder helps woodpeckers, flickers, and other birds who rely on higher fat food sources and insects. Mealworms provided on a heavy platter or dish are a lifesaver for birds such as bluebirds who may not be able to find insects if the ground is frozen. Orioles love citrus fruit, so half an orange tucked into a dish is appealing to them, too. Be creative and use a good bird book to understand the birds in your region and what will appeal to them.
- Plant windscreen shrubs. Evergreen shrubs and hollies can shield birds during winter storms. They will duck under them or nestle in the branches to keep the worst of the snow and wind away.
- Add more feeders immediately before a storm. I have two tube feeders, one a large heavy feeder and a smaller feeder. I place the smaller feeder out year-round and the heavy one is added to the limbs of an oak tree near the vegetable garden during the coldest winter months.
- Scatter seed on the ground. Some birds, such as mourning doves, prefer to peck seed from the ground. They will eat seed from under feeders but it is helpful to provide a tray for them on the ground with seed.
- Accept squirrels. I know that it is frustrating to see more squirrels than birds at the feeders. But squirrels have to eat, too. You can sometimes lure them away by providing their natural food source elsewhere. I haven’t tried this, but I’ve often wondered if collecting acorns in the fall and putting them out far away from bird feeders would help. Knowing squirrels…probably not. They are smart little critters!
- Stock up on birdseed during sales and put more out when the weather turns bad. Listen to weather reports and make sure you top off your bird feeders before a big snowstorm arrives.
Other Ways of Helping Wild Birds in Winter
What about bird bath heaters? I happen to like them and feel that they can help birds, especially in urban and suburban areas, survive better. Mankind has built up so much of the areas where birds once found plentiful water sources that they can have a tough time finding water in the urban jungle. Birdbath heaters keep water from freezing and provide water during the toughest times of the winter.
There is some anecdotal evidence, however, that birds can take baths in the super cold weather and end up getting ice on their feathers. I haven’t seen that happen, but I have read several articles saying that it can happen. In my area of Virginia, a rural area, birds have plenty of natural water sources. We have a spring-fed creek on the property that as far as I know has never completely frozen over. There is a large, deep stock pond on a farm further down the road, and Vaughan Creek crosses my road and it is always running and never frozen. I don’t worry about the birds finding potable water in the rural areas.
For more information on turning your backyard into a wild bird sanctuary, please see my book, Attract Birds to Your Garden, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
Happy gardening. Keep growing!
Images licensed from: Morguefile.com/Robb and Morguefile.com/Juditu
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.