Brrrr!: Are You (and Your Birds) Ready For Winter?

The winter can be a very difficult time for birds. Days are often windy and cold, nights are long and even colder, but there are many ways we humans can help our feathered friends.

Setting up backyard bird feeders certainly makes their lives easier and ours a little more enjoyable. To observe birds at your backyard feeder, you don’t need to brave the elements. Simply place the feeder close to a window so that you can watch the show from the comfort of your home. You can even mount some feeders directly to your window for a front-row-centre view. At The Urban Nature Store we feature the Rogers & Kirkwood Window Feeder, which affixes directly to the window and allows see-through viewing. It is also made from recycled milk bottles, so it is not only very durable, it is great for the environment.

Feeding and viewing birds is also a great family activity, which can be done from the comfort of your home. One recent study at Purdue University found that feeding birds at home not only increases the knowledge of birds among children, but also enhances their awareness of conservation and nature.

Whether we feed them or not, our feathered friends have their own ways of coping with the harsh realities of winter. Chickadees form flocks in the late summer to help increase their chances of survival during the cold winter. At nights to help preserve energy, a chickadee can lower their normal body temperature by 12 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. At dawn the resting birds will head straight to your feeder to replenish their empty bellies. This is one reason that early mornings and late evenings are some of the busiest times at your winter feeder.

For a normal bird, your feeder is likely one of more than 20 food sources they stop at during the day. If you are away for a few days and your feeder is empty, it is not the end of the world, it is just means one of their regular restaurant stops will be skipped. The one time that it is absolutely critical to feed your birds is when an ice storm hits. During and after an ice storm food is in extremely short supply and the stresses on birds are elevated. It is times like this that birds need us humans the most. After an ice storm, I will often place several extra containers of oil- and protein-rich birdseed out for my local feathered friends.

During the winter you will often notice crowds or flocks of mixed birds flying through your neighbourhood. It is not uncommon for woodpeckers, nuthatches, pine siskins and a variety of other birds to form a feeding flock and travel together during the cold winters. The commingling of several different bird varieties may last a few hours, days or even several weeks.

One way to encourage the birds to stay in your backyard is to ensure that you are serving a top-quality seed that your birds enjoy eating. A seed mix rich in sunflower hearts, peanuts and black oil, like The Urban Nature Store Red Carpet Mix, is always a crowd pleaser. Birds also need water as much or even more in the winter than in the summer. Always have heated water available that will not freeze. Our customers tell us they have found the Allied Precision Bird Bath De-Icer to be very good for keeping the water in their birdbaths from freezing.

If you want your birds to use your nest boxes they also should also be prepared for the winter. Firstly, clean out the previous season’s nests that have gotten damp or infested. Then layer about 3 or 4 inches of long-grass or wood shavings at the bottom of each house. Do not use sawdust as it retains moisture. Secondly plug the air vent holes with flexible weather striping. Thirdly, place several roosting pockets around your backyard so as to provide the birds with a safe, dry and warm place to seek shelter during very cold or snowy evenings. Roosting pockets are simple bird shelters often made from natural grasses and twigs. They are not designed for nesting, only shelter. At The Urban Nature Store we feature several different varieties all priced about $5 each.

As the winter is very hard on many birds, they will certainly appreciate anything we humans can do to make winter just a little less harsh.

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