Put Out The Winter Welcome Mat For Birds

A red-bellied woodpecker balances on a suet feeder, while a Carolina wren waits its turn.(Photo: Marian St. Clair)

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I recently returned home from a week away to find the birds had emptied their feeders in my absence. Once the feeders were cleaned and restocked, however, I was amazed at how quickly they discovered the new supply of food and then invited all of their friends over for a party. At least, that’s how I like to imagine it—the tiny chickadees and finches display such spunk and personality it’s easy to believe they’re in cahoots with one another.

In summer, when a wide variety of food is plentiful, birds use most of their energy foraging, nesting, and raising their young. As the weather turns cold, however, insects disappear and other foods diminish, so birds are in constant search of food just to stay warm. For the birds’ benefit, winter feeding is most helpful when it provides concentrated forms of fats and oils that are easily converted to energy.      

In my garden, I have four feeders filled with various rich foods to attract the greatest number of species, including safflower seed for cardinals, black oil sunflower seed for wrens and sparrows, and thistle seed for finches. The feeder that tempts the most interesting birds, however, is the suet feeder. I particularly like to watch the brightly colored woodpeckers and sleek nuthatches that seek out this high-calorie food.

When time allows, I prefer to my own suet. The recipe is simple: I soften one cup lard and one cup of crunchy peanut butter in the microwave (heat at half power for 30 seconds, then stir and heat again as needed), and then add one cup whole wheat flour, and two cups each of uncooked quick oats, cornmeal, and raisins.  (Recipe makes 4 suet cakes.)

Nuts can also play a big part in keeping birds healthy in winter, as they contain even more oil than seeds. When the weather is especially bitter, I supply peanuts as a treat and sometimes splurge on pecans or walnuts too. 

Foods grown in the garden will also be appreciated, as long as they last. Berries are the greatest enticement. Cedar, holly, dogwood, barberry, cotoneaster, beautyberry, and several of the viburnums, such as cranberry (V. trilobum) and nannyberry (V. prunifolium) are all excellent food choices.

Birds can be attracted by the dried seed heads of some flowers, such as sunflowers and coneflowers, and they’ll devour fruits with relish. Crabapples straight from the tree are favorites, but providing fresh fruit, such as orange halves or grapes, and dried fruits, like raisins and cherries, will help birds maintain a varied diet in winter.   

Other key features for a bird-friendly garden during the cold season are clean water and plenty of cover. Some birds will use roost boxes to stay warm in winter, especially those that typically nest in tree cavities or make themselves at home in a birdhouse, such as bluebirds. If you want to increase the number of birds roosting in your garden, remember these tips…

Leave Birdhouses Au Naturel

Brightly painted birdhouses are cute, but birds prefer a home that blends into the landscape rather than attracts notice.  If you choose to paint, however, take location into careful consideration, as dark-painted houses may become too warm when heated by the sun.

 

No Perches Please

Natural nesting sites don’t offer perches; instead, nearby branches serve as landing pads.  The same should be true of man-made houses, because perches offer a balancing spot for predators that can reach inside the box.

 

Purchase the Right House for Native Birds

Buy or build houses that are specific for the birds that you see in the garden.  A bluebird requires a box that is 6 to 8-inches tall with a 4-inch square floor and an entrance hole that is 1-1/2 inch diameter.  A larger bird would need a bigger box.

 

 

 

Source : http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/life/style/2017/11/14/put-out-winter-welcome-mat-birds/864260001/

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