How can I help wild birds survive the winter?
During the winter months, heavy snow, ice, and freezing winds are no stranger! It’s no surprise that we worry about our feathered friends. Some birds migrate to get away from bad weather, but not all species of birds do. For those that stick around, the winter weather limits their food source and shelter options and leaves them relying on us to help them survive. Especially if you live in an area where the cold hits below freezing and snow and ice cover the ground for extended periods of time, you can help birds get through the winter with these simple tips.
Keep Bird Feed Accessible & Dry
Winter is a great time to take up bird feeding! Save money and stock up on discounted bird seed in the fall, when stores are getting ready to make room for winter merchandise. Get extra-large feeders or multiple feeders, so that you can cut down on the number of trips you make to refill seed while also allowing more birds to eat at one time.
Tube and hopper feeders are preferred for keeping your seed dry. You’ll want to place feeders in areas that are less windy like along an edge of wooded area or anywhere with a wind barrier. It’s also good to place feeders near a tree or bush allowing birds to quickly get to cover from predators. You’ll want to fill the feeders consistently as many birds depend on this food source to get them through the winter.
Select High-Energy Food
Birds burn fat for energy to stay warm. It’s important to choose bird feed that is high in calories and high in fat like suet (animal fat), peanut butter and peanuts, meal worms, and black oil sunflower seeds. Suet is a great winter food and comes in a variety of blends to attract different species of birds. Unsalted peanuts are another great winter food because nuts don't freeze and they're high in calories, oil, and fat. These high-energy foods give birds the fuel they need to maintain warm body temperatures during the long, cold nights.
Don’t Forget to Provide Water
When snow and ice cover the frozen ground, it can be difficult for birds to find fresh water. Heated bird baths are a great way to keep water available for the birds in your area. There are heating elements you can use in a variety of bird baths to keep the water from freezing. Birds not only use water to stay hydrated, they also use water to preen their feathers which keeps them insulated. Without proper insulation, they lose body heat much faster!
Offer Well-Sealed Shelters
Birds find shelter in areas that block the wind and cold. Hedges, evergreens, brush piles, and even under your deck are popular shelter areas for birds. Birds are also known to use birdhouses for shelter in the winter. You can insulate your birdhouses by adding dry grass or wood shavings at the bottom, as well as sealing the ventilation holes and cracks for added warmth. You can purchase or make roosting boxes, which are designed specifically for sheltering multiple birds during winter months. Roosting boxes typically have an entrance hole near the bottom of the box instead of at the top to prevent heat loss. They also have multiple interior perches, mesh walls for birds to cling and climb on, and are larger than most birdhouses. Mounting your birdhouse to the trunk of a tree is another great option to give birds a warm shelter this winter.
Learn About the Birds in Your Area
Lastly, learn about the birds in your area and purchase bird feeders, bird seed, and bird shelters accordingly. Some birds like to eat off the ground and may require you to clear a patch in the snow and scatter the bird seed that way instead of using a feeder. It’s also important to preserve their habitat. You may want to remove dead vegetation from your garden and landscaping, but that provides great shelter for birds in the winter.