BLESSINGS IN BLOOM: Winter Birds
Not all birds fly south! Watching beautiful birds during the winter months can be very entertaining. We are fortunate, in our diocese, to have birds year-round. This time of year, as the temperatures drop, they are busy foraging for food and seeking out water. Here are a few tips to help encourage our feathered friends to stick around for a while and survive the cold weather.
There are three basic elements for attracting birds into the garden: food, shelter and water. While putting out birdseed and a birdbath are sure winners, there are also many plants that birds seek out and inhabit that help protect them against our strong Colorado winds.
Food alone might do the trick, but choosing the right feeder and the right food can be overwhelming. To a certain extent, that depends on which species you are trying to attract. Many different kinds of birds overwinter in our diocese, including our mountain communities. Juncos, chickadees, siskins, grosbeaks, finches, jays, nuthatches, and more all endure our winters — and all are grateful for a little extra food. Studies indicate that birds with access to feeders can have a much higher winter survival rate during prolonged cold winters. Interestingly, they don’t become dependent on feeders, because only 15-25% of their food intake comes from feeders.
Research has shown the black oil sunflower seed is one of the preferred foods for many wild birds. (Cheaper mixes often contain a lot of filler seeds, such as milo, flax, canary seed, and wheat, which wild birds tend not to eat). A tube feeder can be purchased for a reasonable price and filled with sunflower seed to attract finches, chickadees, pine siskins and others. Juncos and jays prefer to feed on the ground, and will feed on seeds that have fallen from the tube feeder. A different feeder will have to be purchased if trespassing squirrels (a topic for another time) are present.
Flickers, woodpeckers and nuthatches are attracted to suet. There are special feeders that hold a block of suet that can be purchased or you can collect large pine cones, dip them in liquid fat (melted suet) or stuff them with peanut butter, then hang. When this method is used, pop up some popcorn, pull up a chair and get ready for the show!
A greater variety of wild birds will visit if water is available throughout the winter. Birds will use a water source for drinking and bathing. Water containers can be as simple as a shallow dish or as elaborate as a fountain with a man-made stream. Refill the dish with fresh water daily, to keep it from freezing solid and (when it’s windy) to stay ahead of evaporation. It is important to clean the water source at least weekly, scrubbing and cleaning it with dish soap and/or laundry detergent. Be sure to remove all of the soap before refilling the birdbath with water. A birdbath heating device will keep water from freezing, so birds have access to fresh, clean water throughout the winter.
Birds take shelter in the protective boughs of evergreens or within any shrubs that provide thick growth. Juncos and tree sparrows often take shelter on the ground under the warm boughs. They especially appreciate a stand of several evergreens massed together.
Many birds also take shelter from the wind in an empty birdhouse. Chickadees and downy woodpeckers especially enjoy enclosed cavities. Clean out your bird houses of any old nesting material at the end of the summer. To help prevent disease and possible parasite infestation, wipe them down or spray them with a ten percent Clorox solution and then hang them back up again.
“He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” — Psalm 91:4