Winter… It’s for the birds

Few things animate winter gardens like woodpeckers dangling from suet cages, robins robbing holly trees of their red winter fruit, and cardinals plucking sunflower seeds from feeders, their flashes of scarlet as enchanting as the rosy-gold hues of a winter sunset. Yes, winter birds captivate us with their colors, entertain us with their antics, and delight us with their songs.

Ripe crape myrtle seeds provide an ongoing food source for goldfinch and other seed-eating bird species from early December through late February. To enjoy the nourishing snack, birds must first pick out a seed from a dried pod, and then crack off its winged casing. All images by Diane Morey Sitton.

To attract the most birds to your winter garden create a habitat they can’t resist. Start by planting seed- and berry-bearing trees and shrubs. Offer their favorite foods and plenty of fresh, clean water. Birds appreciate shelter, as well. Remember, the greater the variety of bird-friendly offerings, the greater the diversity of birds you’ll attract.

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Make your winter garden irresistible to birds by following the suggestions below.

1. Install bird feeders. Fill hopper-style feeders with black oil sunflower seeds to attract northern cardinals, tufted titmice, finches, and woodpeckers. Multi-port feeders stocked with thistle seed lure goldfinches and chickadees. Keep feeding stations clean.

Snow on a platform feeder nearly covers the birdseed that awaits doves, cardinals, titmice, and other seed eaters.

2. Set the table. Entice mourning doves and other ground-foraging bird species by stocking ground-level feeding trays with white proso millet, cracked corn, peanuts, or birdseed.

Attach orange wedges to a grapevine wreath to lure tanagers and orioles.
Offer orange slices, apple chunks, grapes, and other fresh fruits to attract fruit-eating bird species.

3. Offer fruit. Impale orange halves on stubby branches or dowels to lure tanagers and orioles. Apple chunks attract red-bellied woodpeckers. Bluebirds savor grapes. Mockingbirds crave raisins.

Insect eating birds especially appreciate suet in winter when their protein sources are scarce.

4. Serve suet. Place the protein-rich treat in plastic-coated suet baskets. Dangle the wire baskets from shepherd’s hooks or suspend them from tree branches. The energizing snack attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, and warblers. Suet cakes are available where birdseed is sold.

Firethorn’s (pyracantha) plump berries attract robins, among other berry-eating birds.

5. Grow berry-laden plants. Grow caches of winter fruits and berries by planting pyracantha, holly, juniper, and bayberry, among other bird-friendly plants. Mockingbirds, bluebirds, warblers, wrens, robins, thrushes, and other berry-eating birds relish the nourishing buffet.

During winter, birds find shelter in nest boxes and specialized roosting boxes.

6. Accommodate winter residents. In winter, birds roost in nest boxes to escape bad weather. Prepare nest boxes for winter occupancy by removing old nests and cleaning each box. Make sure the entrance hole faces away from prevailing winds. Specialized roosting boxes also appeal to bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and other cavity-nesting birds. The low-positioned entrance hole and high inside roosting shelves help birds retain warmth. Upgrade the accommodations by adding wood shavings, straw, or sawdust.

Despite a dusting of snow, sunflower seeds stay dry and snow-free in this triangular-shaped feeder.

7. Quench their thirst. Outfit gardens with pools, saucers, and birdbaths filled with fresh water. Situate birdbaths in open areas, away from predators. For bathing, birds prefer shallow basins with nonslip footing. Birds also appreciate shrubs where they can preen.

At least seven bird species relish yaupon’s colorful berries.

8. Furnish cover. Birds rely on dense evergreen trees and shrubs for protection against winter weather and predators. In small landscapes, grow trees and shrubs with multiple bird-appealing qualities. For instance, hollies supply a year-round canopy of protective foliage, plus they produce bird-luring berries.

Posted by Diane Morey Sitton
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