Baby, it’s cold outside! Winter is here, and while it can be beautiful and serene, it’s not as much fun to be a bird. While we’re safe and warm in our living rooms, or cuddled around an outdoor fire pit with some cozy blankets, our feathered friends spend most of the season hunting down food, water and shelter to survive.
So if you’ll be spending more time in the New Jersey chill than on a tropical vacation this winter, you’ll be in good company. Plenty of local and native birds will be sticking around to liven up your yard – you just need to invite them to visit and offer them a reason to stay.
These are some of the ways that you can attract winter birds to your garden, extend your hospitality, and enjoy the sight and sound of their company this season.
The Way To A Bird’s Heart…
Is with fine dining! For birds, that can mean nuts, seeds, some grains and even beef fat. Different species prefer different food, so try including a variety and you’ll be rewarded with more diversity.
Sunflower seeds and peanuts are among the most commonly enjoyed meals. They’re popular with chickadees, goldfinches, house finches, and other colorful company.
Apples, orange wedges, grapes, and bananas are just as popular with blue jays and cardinals as with their human admirers.
Lay out a banquet for woodpeckers, wrens and the delightfully tufted titmouse with suet – a “cake” made of beef fat that can be mixed with other treats like nuts and seeds.
Other options include millet, dried fruit, thistle seeds, and – you might be surprised by this one – salt.
Birds actually need salt as an essentail nutrient, and winter can pose a hazard to them as salt crystals on the road can be just as appetizing as fresh ones in a bird feeder. Unfortunately, roadside salt can be unhealthy and downright deadly.
Offer a better option by including it in a bird-safe zone, like a feeder, in your garden.
Set The Table(s)
How you present food can be just as important as what you offer. Bird feeders are an excellent way to attract birds and can help you control which critters actually get to dine.
There are different types of bird feeders for different types of food and dining preferences. Sparrows, goldfinches and cardinals all prefer ground feeders, which sit a mere few inches off the ground.
Nuthatches and chickadees enjoy sunflower seeds, best delivered from a seed tube at least five feet above the ground.
There are other types as well, including suet feeders for those beef-fat lovers, so don’t be afraid to offer multiple feeding spots with different types of food. In fact you may just notice some hungry guests flit from one type to another.
Be mindful of where you place feeders, too. Birds don’t like to eat out in the open where there is no protection from predators. On the other hand, avoid placing feeders near shrubs where predators can hide and sabotage your feathered friends.
And if you’e ever tried feeding birds and ended up feeding the neighborhood squirrels instead, you know that these four-legged critters can be cute but also very ambitious in their search for food.
These rodent-cousins can jump ten feet horizontally, so it’s best to keep vulnerable bird feeders at least ten feet from branches and rooflines. For pole-mounted feeders , choose varieties with special baffles around the base to discourage climbing.
You can also try various “cage”-like feeders, which are great for providing a safe haven for birds, while ensuring squirrels can’t squeeze through the openings to reach food.
Offer Beverages, Too
Birds need to stay hydrated, just like us. Unfortunately, they often meet with frozen fountains and ice during winter. Providing them with a clean, open water source along with meals is sure to earn their favor.
If you have a pond, you can keep it running during winter with an aerator, heater or de-icer to keep the surface from freezing. Try using a heater in your birdbath or fountain so birds can drink and splash – yes, they will frolic in the water even under icy cold conditions.
Fountains and waterfalls are also great additions to your landscape because the sound of running water will attract birds with its soothing susurrations. Other water features will work just as well – bubblers, columns, streams and pondless waterfalls provide a source of drinking water, a place to play, and a touch of added beauty for us humans, too.
Give Them Shelter From A Storm – And Predators
Nobody wants to be caught outside on a stormy winter day – and that includes birds. Roost boxes, nesting pockets, bird houses and even natural shelters like evergreens and brush piles, all offer protection from beastly winter weather.
Plan your landscape to include bird-friendly trees and shrubs. Lush evergreen bough will offer protection from weather and predators. Other plants, like Winterberry Holly, offer roosting spots and tasty morsels.
Tall grasses are another great option. Not only do they give birds shelter and protection, but they add a lovely visual and auditory element to your winter landscape.
We know you’re dedicated to keeping your yard clean, but leave a few piles of debris, like fallen leaves, seed pods, pinecones, even your discarded Christmas tree, and the birds will thank you by setting up camp in your yard.
Be careful, though. Birds aren’t the only ones looking for a safe haven. Cats, and predatory birds like hawks are also looking for food and shelter, so avoid asking your feathered friends to share a space with them.
Keep bird feeders at least five feet from shrubs or dense growth where predators can hide. Plant some thorny berry-bearing bushes – cats won’t dive in but birds are content to perch on their branches.
Decorative fencing, safe bird house designs, even sharp mulches will discourage predators from stalking bird areas.
Attracting birds to your winter landscape isn’t much different than attracting human guests – good food, something to drink, a safe place to rest, and you can enjoy their company regularly!
If you’re interested in bringing more wildlife to your landscape and want to enjoy the beauty of winter birds, contact us for a consultation. We’ll plan out the right plants, ground cover, bird spaces, water features, and more, so that you can enjoy the sights, sounds and friends that each season brings.