If you want to create a winter haven for birds, it must include a feeding program, a water source and some provision for shelter. The water and feeding stations need to be situated within 10 to 20 feet of cover so that the birds can escape hawks and cats. If they are nesting in the cover they will spend less time exposed to harsh conditions when food and water are nearby.
In the backyard, leave some leaves under the shrubs. Birds can forage under them for insects and even seeds. A little pile of brush topped with your discarded Christmas tree creates a hiding place out of the wind.
Winter feeding stations should be situated with some protection from the wind and high enough from the ground that dogs cannot grab the suet cakes. It is best to have them in place in fall so that the birds can locate them while deciding on winter quarters.
Birds like relatively fresh, good-quality seeds. Small, black, oil-type sunflower seed attracts the widest variety of birds. Safflower seed is reported to attract cardinals, chickadees, finches, nuthatches and mourning doves, yet has the advantage of not being very attractive to grackles, starlings, house sparrows and squirrels.
At this time of year you may like to make some bird-friendly “ornaments” to give as gifts or enjoy at home. This can be as simple as slathering some natural peanut butter on a small pinecone and sprinkling on birdseed. Another notion is to use cookie cutters to cut shapes from bread slices. Dip the slices in melted suet and press on the safflower seeds. Of course, stringing plain popcorn and hanging it round a tree may be the easiest of all!
A seed combination that attracts a wide range of songbirds consists of 50 percent sunflower seeds, 35 percent white proso millet and 15 percent finely-cracked corn. A few crushed eggshells add needed grit and calcium.
(Photo: Wild turkeys by my birdbath!)
Because birdbaths are shallow and often elevated, a birdbath heater may be needed to ensure a steady source of winter water. Birds need to bathe all year ‘round!
For those who only want to help birds over winter, the feeding station can be discontinued in April as naturally-occurring food sources become readily available.
Some years ago, I was surprised to learn that bird watching is a very popular activity. I do not consider myself to be an enthusiast, but must confess that we drop everything
when a flock of wild turkeys visits our yard. Ditto on the rare occasions a pileated woodpecker has put in an appearance.
When winter deprives master gardener Ann Bartlett of the beauty of the ornamentals in her flowerbeds, she solaces herself by watching the birds insteads.