Establishing a Bird Safe Haven in the Winter


Looking for ways to liven up the view out your window during these winter months? Try making your yard more welcoming to birds and other wildlife! Although winter can be beautiful, it can also be a tough time for wildlife, especially birds. They spend nearly all of their energy seeking out food, shelter, and water. Helping them out with these needs is a win-win for both you and the birds. They’ll be fed and cozy, and you get to enjoy watching graceful, stunningly colored birds swooping in and out of your winter wonderland. 

So what can you do to attract feathered friends to your yard?

Offer a winter safe haven

Believe it or not, you may already have excellent cold-weather shelter for birds planted in your yard! Native evergreens can protect feeding birds and block prevailing winds. Plus, birds can even eat the seeds inside pinecones.

No evergreens in your yard? Shrubs, grasses, trees, brush piles, nesting boxes, and abandoned structures can also function as acceptable shelter for birds. When planting for next season, look for shrubs and perennials that are known for hanging on to their fruits and foliage all winter long. They function as both a food and shelter source for birds.

Provide a Hydration Station

The frozen winter landscape makes it difficult for birds to find drinkable water. Providing access to open water via your own pond is a great way to help these birds out! Prevent your pond water from freezing by using either an aerator or a pump that keeps your water constantly moving.

Additionally, consider letting your waterfall run throughout winter, as animals are often attracted to the sound of running water. If you choose to do this, be aware that ice is capable of building up and forming dams that could divert water out of your pond, so stop by the pond regularly to monitor these formations.

If you are unable to keep your pond open, or simply choose to close it during the winter months, you can still keep a birdbath filled for your feathery guests! Choose a plastic bird bath with a built-in heater, and make sure the model features a pedestal to help reduce risks from predators, such as neighborhood cats. Also try to place the water 10 feet away from dense shrubs that could potentially hide predators.

Choose a Bird Feeder

Bird feeders are an excellent tool to draw birds. You can attract a variety of species by purchasing multiple styles and placing them at varying heights. This is because birds naturally feed at different heights!

Consider these five feeding styles for your yard:

  • Ground-feeding tables: Should be placed in open locations, away from shrubs that might hide predators. These feeders sit several inches off the ground and are favored by doves, juncos, sparrows, towhees, goldfinches, and cardinals.
  • Hopper feeders: These attract all of the same species that are drawn by tube feeders, plus larger birds such as jays, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and cardinals. They can hold several pounds of mixed seed that tumbles forward on demand. Hopper feeders should be placed on a pole about five feet off the ground.
  • Sunflower-seed tube feeders: Place these feeders at least five feet off the ground. Position them near a window so you can enjoy watching your visitors! This feeder style is likely to attract small birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, siskins, and purple and house finches.
  • Suet feeders: Popular with titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and wrens, creepers, and warblers occasionally pop by as well. A suet feeder can be hung from a tree in an onion bag, hardware-cloth basket, or a more durable cage feeder. Small chunks of suet can also be placed in dishes or trays for easy access.
  • Thistle feeders: Designed especially for dispensing thistle seeds. These feeders have tiny holes that make the seed available only to small-beaked finches such as goldfinches, redpolls, and pine siskins. Hang this feeder on a five-foot pole or from a tree and keep it protected from squirrels by using a baffle.

Nervous that predatory animals may hijack your feeding stations? Plant spiny plants (such as evergreen holly or thorny barberry) under your feeders as deterrents! Squirrel baffles are effective in keeping squirrels and cats away as well.

Create a Natural Buffet

There are many natural food sources that are great for birds! Some winter plants that birds are known to enjoy are Staghorn Sumac, Viburnums, Virginia Creeper, Serviceberry, Winterberry Holly, and more. Consider integrating these plants into your landscaping to create a natural buffet for your new feathered friends!

If natural sources are not an option, you can add seed mix to your bird feeders instead. The following options provide good nutrition and are high in calories to give birds plenty of energy and help them build up their fat reserves for cold winter nights.

  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Fruit: apples, orange wedges, banana slices, halved grapes, and melon rinds
  • Millet (an inexpensive, starchy grain)
  • Salt crystals (birds crave salt as an essential mineral, but it should only be offered in minimal amounts)
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