Care for feathered friends during the coldest time of year with these easy-to-do projects.
by Westlake Ace Hardware
We all love the sights and sounds of birds in our gardens and around our homes, but the winter months can be tough on our feathered friends. Because the short days, frigid nights, lack of food, and frozen water can make life very hard on wild birds, there are several ways homeowners can help ensure local bird populations thrive during the coldest time of year. To make the coming weeks and months as comfortable as possible for birds, Westlake Ace Hardware suggests these easy-to-do projects to supplement their diets and provide safe shelter and hydration.
The Never-Freeze Hydration Station
During winter, dehydration is often a bigger threat to birds than starvation. Because most natural water sources are often frozen solid this time of year, think about creating a Hydration Station near your bird feeders this winter. The water source will help them stay hydrated and properly preened. Preening helps keep feathers aligned, which is essential for birds to sufficiently insulate themselves from the cold.
The easiest and least expensive way to provide access to unfrozen water is to install a heating element to an existing all-weather birdbath. The heating element will keep the water above freezing, even during the coldest months. Installation is easy and can be accomplished by running a weatherproof extension cord to the birdbath and securing it around the base with zip ties – which will help prevent it from becoming unplugged.
A Wintertime “Bird Buffet”
Wild birds survive the winter at a higher rate if they have access to feeders. Therefore, providing reliable sources of high-calorie, high-energy, and high-fat foods is essential. To accomplish this, set up several separate feeding stations: one or two for seed and another for suet. This will ensure you accommodate the widest array of bird species possible. Place the feeders in an area of your yard protected from high winds and replenish the feed often. Because birds need to keep their weight up to keep warm in the winter, they eat more than you think.
The sunflower, safflower, peanuts, raisins, dehydrated cherries, rendered beef suet pieces, and other ingredients in seed blends such as Audubon Park provide much-needed boosts of energy. Also, to help birds preserve energy in the winter, consider switching to blends that contain “hulled” seed varieties, making it easier for them to access much-needed nutrition. Suet is made from a combination of nutrient-dense animal fats and seeds, helps replace scarce live insects, and provides a high-calorie treat.
Not all bird species eat at feeders. For ground-feeding birds such as doves, juncos, thrashers, and cardinals, scatter seed under bushes, decks, and other areas where they are more protected from predators and icy winds. A discarded Christmas tree – placed on its side near a feeding area – provides excellent protection from the elements and it will help keep food accessible if there is a snowfall.
A Roof for Roosting
Birds have many natural defenses to help guard against the cold, mainly the ability to fluff up their feathers. However, on frigid nights and during storms, most birds look for a warm and protected place to hunker down and roost. If you have birdhouses in your garden, leave them up during the winter. Many bird species will use the birdhouses for roosting on freezing nights. Easy to install, mount the houses at least five feet off the ground on tree trunks or wooden fence posts. Take care to locate them away from prevailing winds and feeding areas (as it will keep the birds safe from predators). Add some grass clippings, straw, or wood shavings to the bottom of the houses to help the birds stay warm.
Photo credit: Westlake Ace Hardware