For some of us, it may not seem like spring is on its way with all the snow we’ve been getting. But snow or not, mating season is starting and our wild birds need our help more than ever! Have you been listening to the birds? The Northern Cardinal is belting out his “cheer, cheer, cheer” call–a sure sign that he’s staking out a territory. And the male chickadees are singing their “Fee-bee” song, most often used during mating season in spring.
With all the snow and bad weather, the birds have had a rough winter. Any remaining food sources, such as berries and seeds are bent over and buried under heaps of snow. And freezing weather may be locking up water supplies. Hopefully everyone has been feeding the birds and providing ice-free water. But now birds are under even more stress. Not only are they struggling to survive, but now they are competing for territories and mates, which require even more energy reserves. Here’s a checklist to make sure you are doing as much as you can to ensure healthy birds and thriving broods this spring:
Choose seed mixes that contain more than half black oil sunflower seeds. These seeds contain the highest fat content per seed, which provides birds with the extra calories they need during stressful times. Be sure to offer suet. Suet is rendered beef fat and it’s an important staple, especially during cold weather. Birds love it and it gives them lots of calories in a very concentrated form.
Don’t forget to offer other high fat, high protein foods whenever possible, such as peanuts, and tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pecans. And fruit is helpful also. Many winter birds are attracted to dried cranberries, blueberries, chunks of apple or even bananas. If you have Pine Siskins or Goldfinches, offer them Nyjer seed in a Nyjer sock or Nyjer feeder. These tiny seeds are packed with nutrition and are especially loved by all finches.
Fresh water is important all year long, but when water sources are frozen over, birds may take to eating snow or drinking the water dripping from icicles. It takes a lot of energy to heat ice-cold water or snow up to body temperature–energy that’s better spent foraging and keeping warm. Providing heated water with a bird bath heater or a heated bird bath helps birds conserve energy and when the air is warm enough, birds may even bathe in the winter. Clean feathers are important because they insulate better in cold weather.
Leaving your bird houses up all winter is a good idea because birds often use these as a shelter to escape cold, windy nights. It’s a good idea to stuff the ventilation holes with hay or rags, but if you didn’t do that this fall, keep it in mind for next winter. Winter roosts can be lifesavers for birds in winter. They’re specially built with the entry hole at the bottom so the heat inside the box rises and stays at the top where the birds perch. If you don’t have several roosts up around your yard, this is another thing you can plan on setting up over the summer so they’ll be ready when winter comes around again.
Another excellent way to provide shelter for birds and other animals is with a brush pile. This is nothing more than a pile of sticks, branches, weeds and refuse in a corner of your yard. The pile gets covered in snow and the air spaces in between the dead branches provide an insulated, draft-free place for birds to hide, forage and seek shelter.
Just remember to keep your feeders full of nutritious foods, keep the water flowing and if you haven’t started a brush pile or put up roosting boxes, be sure to keep those things in mind when you’re finally able to get out and do some spring yard cleaning!