Tips for Bird-Lovers in Winter

 

Here are some winter tips for bird-lovers of the Mid-Atlantic, with thanks to the experts at the University of Maryland and other wildlife experts.

Attracting and Providing For Birds in Winter

– Some fall-fruiting native trees and shrubs with winter persistent fruits include: Dogwood, Black Gum, Oaks, Eastern red cedar, Sumac, American cranberry bush viburnum, Northern bayberry, American holly, and Winterberry holly (include male and female plants for cross-pollination). Fruits of these trees and shrubs may remain long after ripening and may not be eaten by birds until frozen and thawed many times. These are important food sources for overwintering birds and early spring arrivals.  The photo above includes the winterberry holly and grasses.

– Leaves left in place in perennial and shrub beds serve as mulch which break down into organic matter which breaks down and improves the soil, plus reducing weeds.  That layer of leaves also provides a habitat for beetles, spiders, amphibians, reptiles and other important predators in your landscape. Ground feeding birds feed upon the insects. If the leaves are large or if there are a lot of them, chopping them up first will prevent their matting and preventing water penetration into the beds.

– Leave the large seed heads of black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and grasses for birds to feed on over the winter.

– Time to clean all nest boxes and feeders. Scrape and remove debris and scrub with hot, soapy water. Rinse and let dry. Some birds that are cavity nesters such as (chickadees and titmice) may use the nest boxes for roosting during the winter.

– Don’t put your bird bath away. Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing throughout the fall season. Clean frequently and keep filled with fresh water.  When temperatures are freezing, it helps birds to break up the ice, or to install a heater of some kind.   There are also solar-powered thingies (what to call them?) that keep the water moving, and thereby not freezing.

– Use garden trimmings to build a brush pile in the corner of your yard or near the edge of a wooded area. Brush piles offer winter protection for ground dwelling birds, small mammals, snakes and box turtles.

– You can supplement bird’s natural diet with purchased seed, suet, etc. Feed from during winter and into early spring when natural food sources are less available. Birds can be fed year round; it’s also okay to stop feeding for short periods or permanently. Birds have evolved to adapt to different types of food sources. Black oil sunflower seeds and suet cakes are a good choice for a wide variety of birds. To attract your favorite species you have to provide the right combination of food and feeders.

Observing

– If you notice lots of seed missing from your bird feeders, the culprits may be squirrels or raccoons.   But there’s hope because some bird species (like chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, some woodpeckers, and blue jays) will  store food for later use. Blue jays, in fact, often bury their seeds and nuts just like squirrels.

– There are some cool ways to birds in your backyard with a purpose.  Amateur and seasoned birders can participate in bird counts, surveys, and other online projects that track the distribution and abundance of birds. Have fun sharing your observations with scientists and other birders. Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other partners to learn about projects such as “Project FeederWatch”, “eBird”, “Celebrate Urban Birds”, and “Great Backyard Bird Count”.

– We actually have butterflies that overwinter here – some woodland types.  They look for tree hollows, exfoliating bark of trees, rock crevices, and log piles to hibernate. These butterflies take nutrients from rotting fruit, damp soil, and dung.

Photo credits:  Bird bath,  Blue jayGoldfinches.  Winterberry hollies and grasses by Susan Harris.

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