Thursday, February 5, 2015

How to Help Birds in Winter

The cold months of winter can be strenuous on local wildlife such as birds.  As temperatures drop, food becomes even harder to find, yet creatures big and small must continue to survive in these harsh conditions. 
A Fox Sparrow feeding on extra seed scattered on a walkway during a snowstorm (photo: Gay Schroer)
Birds have to expend extra energy in order to stay warm during the winter.  Naturally, birds do have cozy down feathers and a special gland that helps keep their feathers waterproof through all sorts of weather conditions.  Birds can also puff up their feathers. The act traps air within outer feathers, which helps keep warmth inside feathers closer to the body for extra insulation.  But staying warm in the winter costs more energy than in the warmer months.  There are many ways you can help out your local wildlife right at home.
Feeders come in all shapes & sizes.  This one holds several suet blocks (photo: Gay Schroer)
Providing feeders for songbirds is a fun way to help birds in your own backyard.  By supplying foods like suet or even peanut butter, it gives birds a great source of fat and protein.  This food source keeps birds’ metabolisms up and helps them maintain their average 104 degree body temperature.
Finches appreciate thistle seed feeders (photo: Gay Schroer)
 You can also put out birdfeeders with nyjer thistle seed for finches.  Nyjer thistle is high in fat, and it is sure to attract birds such as House Finches, Purple Finches, Goldfinches, and Pine Siskins.  By offering black sunflower seeds in your feeder, you will likely attract a wide variety of birds such as Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Mourning Doves, grosbeaks, and more.  These bird feeders will help local songbirds by giving them a stable food supply during winter.  Birds begin to look for good food sources as early as the beginning of fall, so getting feeders up during that time will best attract them.

A Northern Mockingbird taking advantage of a nut feeder (photo: Gay Schroer)
In the winter, fresh water is harder to come by as water sources freeze.  Birds can dehydrate more easily in the winter as drinking water becomes harder to find.  By providing a water source such as a birdbath, you can help your local birds stay hydrated and healthy.  Even better, a heated birdbath is a very popular spot for winter birds.  When choosing a birdbath, plastic or resin birdbaths are more resistant to shattering in the wintertime during ice removal and melting.  It is never a good idea to pour boiling water on a frozen birdbath however, as it might shatter your birdbath.  Instead, warm water will do just fine.
In the winter birdhouses are used for roosts (photo: Gay Schroer)
Another thing you can do for your local birds is to provide roosts for them.  A roost is a place where a bird spends the night (or day, if you are an owl).  This can be done either by putting out birdhouses or even by providing more trees such as conifers or evergreens.  A cozy birdhouse will be appreciated by your local bird friends.  There are numerous birdhouse building plans available online, as well as premade birdhouses you can buy at retail stores, such as Lowes, Walmart, Home Depot, Wild Birds Unlimited as well as numerous hardware stores, co-ops, feed stores and other stores that sell bird seed, scattered throughout your area.  You can even attract specific species of birds by choosing certain birdhouse designs.
A Northern Flicker sheltering from the wind at the base of a large tree (photo: Gay Schroer)
Through providing feeders, fresh water, and roosts, you can really help out the local birds in your area during winter.  Not only will you help the birds out, but you will also have a lot of colorful backyard visitors to watch and enjoy all season long.

Submitted by Paige Davis, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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