December’s icy cold winds blow, and snowflakes fall as temperatures drop. Winter weather can be severe, and birds in your yard may be struggling for survival. We may be fortunate to have a place to live, but your local birds may need extra care from helping hands to stay alive.
HOW BIRDS ARE BUILT
Birds are built to stay warm and conserve energy in winter. Some grow additional feathers as temperatures drop, which increases their insulation. Some birds fluff their feathers up, which traps body heat. Some species of birds can lower their metabolic rate, slowing their heart rate down and burning fewer calories to help survive the coldest nights. Wet feathers are hazardous to a bird’s health, and birds stay dry because of the glands that coat their feathers in oil as they preen themselves. Preening creates air pockets that trap body heat to insulate and keep them warm.
HOME IS WHERE THE WARMTH IS
Nesting boxes can be left up year round. Birds can raise their young in the summer and later take shelter from harsh winter elements. And, of course, every home needs some furnishings to make it cozy and comfortable. What would a bird roosting in a nest box on a cold winter’s night prefer to nestle in? Wood shavings or dried grass are some natural materials to fill birdhouses, but be sure that they’re dry. Sawdust isn’t recommended because, when wet, it retains moisture.
Other alternative abodes for birds include shrubs, evergreen trees and brush piles of fallen leaves and dead branches. Rake a pile of leaves, sticks, and branches into a corner in your yard for a makeshift shelter for your feathered friends, and also to provide a home for hibernating amphibians, reptiles and insects. Make “birdie hotels” by stuffing grasses, cotton and other materials in leftover hanging planters.
FINDING FOOD, FEEDERS, AND FORAGING
Keep bird food accessible and dry in tube or hopper feeders, and reach ground-feeders by scattering seed for birds like sparrows, juncos, doves and towhees. Scatter peanut bits, mixed seed and black-oil sunflower seeds in your hedges and bushes and along the edge of your garden or wooded area. To attract a wide variety of birds, provide different types of feeders, such as a suet feeder, peanut feeder, and a satellite feeder for smaller birds.
Putting out high-energy, high-fat foods will boost your winter birds’ energy. Set out peanut butter and suet. Make your own DIY suet feeder from a mesh onion bag – smear it with peanut butter, fill the bag with peanuts, and then suspend the bag from a tree branch or bird feeder pole.
BIRDSEED CAKE RECIPE: Melt 2 cups suet in a saucepan over low heat, then mix in 1 cup quick oats, ½ cup shelled sunflower seeds and ¼ cup each of chopped peanuts, raisins, currants or berries as desired. Store in the freezer until solid, then place in suet feeder when the temperature is colder than 50 degrees.
HELP THEM KEEP HYDRATED
Water is essential for birds and dehydration can be a bigger threat than starvation. When temperatures drop below freezing and water turns to ice, provide your feathered friends with fresh water. A heated birdbath is ideal, but if you don’t have that, simply put out a shallow dish of warm water at the same time every day and your birds will grow accustomed to that daily schedule.
FIND WAYS TO HELP YOUR BIRDS SURVIVE AND THRIVE
There are lots of creative, inexpensive or even cost-free ways to help our fine feathered friends survive the winter. When it comes to food, water, and shelter, human friends can help them cope in even the harshest and most severe conditions. Birds will fare much better if you provide them with adequate food, water, and shelter, which are often in short supply in the winter.
When the landscape is covered in snow, birds stand out against the stark white. Stay warm inside the comfort of your own home and enjoy watching your well-nourished birds flourish.