The winter solstice is this Saturday, Dec. 21, at 9:19 p.m. While the days have been sunny and beautiful (when you are inside looking out the window!), if you have spent any time outside, you know that the brisk wind combined with our day time temperatures has made it downright frigid the last few days.
Have you ever found yourself on a cold winter’s day looking out the window at the wild birds in your yard and wondering how they stay alive? Maybe you’ve asked yourself questions such as, “How do they survive sub-freezing temperatures?” Or, “How do they find enough food day after day to maintain their metabolism?”
While many bird species migrate to warmer climates, there are perhaps just as many that stick around. As you sit in your warm, thermostatically-controlled house, you might wonder, “What can I do to help wild birds that winter-over?”
Here are some simple suggestions to make their lives a little easier:
• Consider feeding nutritious wild bird seed. It will cost more, but the birds will benefit by the better-quality ingredients.
Uninformed consumers may have the impression that all bird seed is the same. This is not the case. Be an informed consumer — read the nutritional analysis information on the product label. Avoid box-store bird seed that contains filler ingredients, and is not formulated for the birds that occur in this part of the country. A blend with a variety of seed and nut ingredients that is high in fat and protein is best.
• In addition to bird seed, put out suet feeders. There are many different suet products available. It is important to read the nutritional analysis on the label, and choose a brand high in fat and protein that does not contain filler ingredients. Suet appeals primarily to insect-eating varieties of birds. You can attract a wider variety of birds to your yard if you feed both seed and suet.
• Provide open sources of water. Water that is accessible (not frozen) to birds is important, as birds need to bathe in the winter. Clean feathers provide a greater insulating capacity than feathers that are dirty and matted. Using a heated birdbath, or a birdbath heater in an existing birdbath, is the best way to keep water open and accessible to birds in the winter time.
• Install nesting boxes for cavity-nesting birds. Birds that nest in cavities also roost in cavities at night. It is not uncommon for cavity-roosting birds to roost communally, with several birds of the same species sharing a single bird house each night. Roosting together allows the birds to share body warmth, and conserves energy.
• Create a brush pile using yard trimmings. Throughout the year, as you prune and trim trees and shrubs in your yard, use the trimmings to create an artificial brush pile. Brush piles create a place for birds to seek shelter from the elements, as well as a place to disappear into when a predator comes into the yard.
• Use feeders that protect bird seed from the elements. If bird seed gets wet from rain or snow, it will get caked in the feeder and it is not healthy for the birds to eat. There are a variety of feeder styles available that have either a roof or a dome to keep the seed dry.
As you feed the wild birds in your yard, you will find a sense of inner satisfaction and enjoyment knowing that the birds will have it a little easier because of your help this winter.
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and, as usual, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.