Winter is a wonderful time to think about another aspect of the garden, the birds! Our feathered friends have an important place in the garden. In addition to ridding it of bothersome insects and rodents that can harm your garden, they also add enjoyment and a certain lure. Feeding the birds can be relaxing and inspirational, if you have young children it gives an opportunity to open a dialogue about nature and conservation. Some birds will depend on you to supplement their diets in colder winter months. When the ground is frozen natural food is scarce. Feeding the birds The variety of bird seeds and mixtures on the market is staggering. In most locations, however, the best all-around attractant is black-oil sunflower seed. This seed has a high meat-to-shell ratio; it is high in fat; and its small size and thin shell make it easy for small birds to handle and crack. Try starting with sunflower seeds, then experiment with other seeds or mixtures. Chickadees, Wrens, Nuthatches, Jays, Woodpeckers and Titmice like Suet. Nuthatches, Finches Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Titmice like Safflower seed (most birds prefer sunflower over safflower). Finches also like millet or Nyjer (thistle) seed. Sparrows and doves like corn, as do ducks and wild turkeys. If you buy a lot of seed, store it in a cool, dry place, in a rodent-proof, metal can. Check the seed often for mold. Do not use seed that has been stored for an extended period of time. Dispose of any seed that is questionable. Several species, including jays, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, readily consume peanuts. Be creative and see what you can attract with a variety of foods. Try popped popcorn (without salt or butter), hulled sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, soaked raisins, pieces of fruit (orioles like oranges), fruit seeds (melons, apples), grapes, or mealworms. Birds may be wary of new foods. If you add something new to your bird-feeding station, offer it in a familiar place.
Bird Baths Since birds need water for drinking and bathing, they are attracted to water just as they are to feeders. You can purchase a bird bath or simply use dishes or shallow pans. Birds seem to prefer baths that are at ground level, but raised baths will attract birds as well. If the bath is on the ground, arrange a few branches or stones in the water so that birds can stand on them and drink without getting wet, this is particularly important in winter. It is important to keep the water within the optimal drinking range for the birds especially on the coldest days. Maintain an ice free bath to attract birds and keep them coming back even in sub-zero weather. To keep the water from freezing try using a heated bird bath. There are also heaters and de-icers specifically for bird baths that are simple and easy to use.
Bird Houses What better time to build your bird house for spring than in winter. Safety, basic needs and location is a bird's primary drive. The color of the bird house will not matter except to the humans that look at them. Try to blend the houses into their placement background to offer protection from being attractive to predators. Always place your bird house at least six feet off the ground to deter cats, raccoons etc. and hang a protective collar just below it. Birds will respond better to location and safety, however a red or yellow bird house will add color to a winter garden. Keep these in mind when building your bird house: The size of the entrance must be proportionate to the type of bird you wish to attract. You will need to drill holes for ventilation. (to allow ample air/light) Birds prefer a rough surface both in and outside of the entrance so that they can easily get in and out Different species of birds have different preferences so if you wish to attract a particular type you should do a little research to include those features in your bird house. Building the right house won't guarantee a particular bird will move in but it will increase your chances of attracting them. Of course there is a huge selection of bird houses on the market if you're not into building your own. There are also bird house kits available, another great way to involve the kids.