Here are some tips for you when cleaning up your yard for the last time this fall—don’t do it! Just kidding, but creating a pristine lawn with not a weed in sight doesn’t really help the birds come winter. There are a lot of easy things we can do to help the birds during the winter months and now is a great time to start. Start by making a brush pile. Whenever branches break off from trees or when clearing out brush, simply throw the pieces in a pile in the corner of your yard. Start with the larger branches in a low crisscross formation to create empty spaces underneath because these are the hiding spaces birds rely on to stay safe from predators.
Keep adding to your brush pile and layer the thinner branches with any vegetation, such as corn stalks from the garden or raked up leaves. Don’t rake too well though because those leaves harbor insects that come out on warmer days and the birds turn them over while foraging. Then just keep adding to the pile.
During winter, birds can take refuge from harsh winds and even scratch in the understory to search for fallen seeds and even bugs that may venture out of the ground. Birds can also avoid predators like hawks, owls and cats as they hide among the nooks and crannies under the brush pile. When snow comes, the pile becomes even more insulating by attracting and giving refuge to small animals such as rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels.
Brush piles can be made more attractive come spring by planting the seeds of vining plants such as trumpet vine, red runner beans and morning glories. The flowers and leaves climb happily over the pile, using the branches to support their tendrils. And hummingbirds are attracted to all these trumpet-shaped flowers.
Resist the temptation to mow the lawn that one last time. Just let the grass go to seed. Many birds thrive on grass seeds during the winter. And also try to let at least one corner of your yard go a bit wild. Weed seeds are an important addition to a winter bird’s diet, as well. You can add acorns to your brush pile. If you have oak trees, have fun raking up some acorns and storing them indoors or in your brush pile for winter days. You can crack them for the birds or offer them whole for the squirrels and chipmunks.
Each time you go out to work in the yard this fall, think before you clean something up and ask, “Would the birds rather I leave this alone?” It is going to make your fall clean-up extra easy–and the birds are going to love you for it! Happy Birding!