As I’ve written about in many a post, one of my favorite things about gardening . . . is attracting wildlife to my space. (Even the deer. As long as they stay out of my backyard!) I provide food, water, cover, and places to raise their young for all kinds of wildlife in my garden . . . and I utilize sustainable gardening practices (I don’t use pesticides or herbicides in my garden beds, for example, and I follow recommended practices for cleaning and maintaining my garden spaces). I do what I can in a world that insists on having no weeds . . . and no mosquitos.
In the summer, the living is easy . . . and I don’t have to do much to keep the birds happy in my garden. I only have one active feeder through the summer months (it’s an ancient and ugly feeder that we’ve had for at least 25 years; it’s quite the workhorse, though), and I let that go empty for most of the summer. “My” birds feed on what’s in my garden — seedheads and berries and insects and nectar. They nest in my trees and my hanging plants and in my pergola. They drink from my birdbaths and ponds. They have a really good time!
But in the winter? Oh, it’s a different story! I work extra hard to take care of my birds in the cold months! I hang a couple of double-suet feeders from hooks in my pergola. I have a peanut feeder for the jays and squirrels. I spread bark butter on my trees. And this year, I decided to put up a second feeder, and I splurged on a Bird Buddy. (If you haven’t heard about these, they are little bird feeders with a camera inside. They take photos of the birds at your feeder and you access the photos on your phone with an app.) I’ll tell you all about my experience with my “BirdBud” next week, in Part 2 . . . so stay tuned.
During the winter, the birds really depend on the food I provide. I check and re-fill the feeders at least once a day, and during the recent sub-zero stretch of freezing weather we’ve been having, I’ve been checking and re-filling the feeders twice a day. (It’s amazing how many peanuts blue jays and squirrels can eat when they’re cold.) Lately, in this cold, I’ve been spreading a lot more seed directly on the ground for the ground-feeding birds (including a very unhappy mourning dove who came back a little early this year; he looks pretty miserable out there). And I repurposed some old cookie sheets to serve as “platform feeders” for scattering peanuts. (I’m also heartened to see a flock of about 30 early-returning robins happily devouring the Hawthorn berries still on my tree.)
And, because birds have a hard time finding water when it’s cold out (birdbaths and pond water freeze over), I have a heated dog dish that I plug in for the winter. (I have this one.) You can also get heated birdbaths or birdbath heaters, but my garden isn’t set up for electricity where I have the birdbaths. So . . . this heated dog dish works just great. And I’ve seen the rabbits and squirrels grab a drink, too. (All critters need water in the winter!)
Freezing water in the garden is not just an issue for the birds. We also have a small pond that is home to frogs. If the pond completely freezes over, the frogs will die (because they need the oxygen in the water, and if the pond isn’t aerating . . . no oxygen) (it’s science . . . and I’m probably not explaining it exactly right, so don’t quote me). A little “hole” in the ice is all you need to keep the water aerating, so we have a little pond heater. (This one.) It’s been working overtime, but it’s doing its job.
I just noticed how dreary and cold it looks in the pictures I’m sharing here. And, well. That’s because it IS very dreary and very cold here in my garden right now. Every once in a while, the sun pops out for a moment, but not very often. Taking care of the birds in my garden gives me a reason to get out there when I really don’t want to . . . and it brings me joy in an otherwise bleak winter landscape.
If you garden “for the birds,” too – or if you just like feeding them in your backyard, here are a few tips from Wild Birds Unlimited to help you be “seasonally-savvy” about what birds need to survive in the winter:
- During winter, it’s especially important for birds to find a reliable source of high-calorie, high-fat foods for extra energy. Best bets: sunflower seeds, suet, and peanuts.
- Locate feeders so they’re out of the wind. The east or southeast side of a house or near a row of trees is ideal.
- Position feeders near cover, but in the open, to allow birds to watch for danger.
- Provide a roosting box or natural plant covers to aid birds seeking protection from cold weather.
- Provide an open source of water. In areas where the weather can turn cold and possibly freeze, use a heated bird bath or bird bath heater to give birds the water they need.
It’s great fun to watch the birds – even in sub-zero temperatures.
Especially when you can watch from the cozy warmth of your own house!