Winterize Your Yard for Birds

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Winterize Your Yard for Birds

With these 9 steps, you can create an avian winter wonderland and get a jump on spring migration season.

By Steve Kress
Published: November-December 2013

Get Planting
Choose trees, shrubs, vines, and groundcovers native to your area. In northern climates this will ensure that new plants are in place and ready to resume growing in the early spring; it's also a good idea in the South, so plants can begin growing outside of the hot and dry seasons. One note of caution: Fall plantings are especially vulnerable to predators. Protect trees from bark-gnawing mice and rabbits by covering sapling trunks with plastic wrap. A three-foot-tall circle of fencing around shrubs can ward off rabbits. Where deer are a threat, protect the entire tree with a ring of welded wire or deer mesh up to five feet tall, available at hardware stores and nurseries. Pile several inches of shredded leaf mulch or wood chips around the base of new plantings to reduce the risk of frost heaving that could expose their roots to dry air.

Provide Water
Make sure there's ample water near protective shrubs. Many kinds of birds bathe in and drink from open water in frigid weather. Avoid ceramic baths; they can crack in cold weather. Instead, purchase a plastic birdbath with a built-in heater, or convert a summer birdbath by adding a heater. Baths on pedestals are ideal for reducing risks from predators such as cats, but if neighborhood cats are a regular threat, it's best not to use birdbaths at all. Clean birdbaths as needed with a stiff, rounded hand brush. Frequent refills are necessary in winter because the water quickly evaporates in dry air.

Out With the Old
Clear out nest boxes in the fall. It's wise to remove bird and mouse nests because some birds will use these boxes as winter night roosts. Clean them a second time in early spring to prepare for the coming nesting season.

Push the Limits
Create a songbird border along your property edge with plants that meet birds' needs year-round. Mimic natural flora communities by including indigenous plant species in varied heights that offer a mix of food, cover, nesting, and singing perches. A border that takes the form of a hedge can double as a windbreak if planted on a home's north side. Ideally, yours should serve to connect any isolated patches of habitat. Most plantings thrive best in full sun. Place several of each species to create clumps within your border, with the tallest in the center and shorter ones tiered away from there. Favor berry-producing shrubs such as dogwoods, hollies, chokeberries, and elderberries. Include oak and cherry trees, since they offer an abundance of fruit; in addition, many insects feed on their leaves, providing birds with essential protein-rich food. Also include short trees such as hawthorn, mountain ash, flowering dogwood, and serviceberry, as well as such evergreens as spruce, holly, and juniper for cover and nesting.

Make Mulch
Rake fallen leaves under shrubs to create mulch and to protect natural ground-feeding areas for such birds as sparrows, towhees, and thrashers. Birds prefer leaf mulch to woodchip and bark mulches. Earthworms, pillbugs, insects, and spiders--songbird delicacies--will thrive as the mulch decomposes.

Discard Old Seed
You should get rid of old birdseed, especially if it has been kept in a hot, humid place like a metal garbage can during the summer months. Although these cans are ideal for protecting seed from rodents, they can also encourage mold growth if the seed gets wet and then heats up.

Pile On
Build a brush pile in a corner of your property to offer songbirds shelter in extreme weather. During fall cleanup, set aside downed branches and tree trunks for construction. If they're available, use large logs as a foundation, then heap fallen and cut branches in successive layers. In large fields that are growing up into young forest, create living brush piles by cutting neighboring saplings most of the way through the trunks. Then pull them into a collective heap, and wire the tree crowns together. They will keep growing for years, providing excellent cover through the seasons.

Grab a Brush
Clean feeders with a bottlebrush and a 10 percent solution of nonchlorinated bleach. Rinse thoroughly and dry in the sun before refilling. Rake up soggy seed from under feeders and bury it far away to prevent the growth of bird-toxic mold. Scrub and store hummingbird feeders so they will be ready for spring.

Protect Your Windows
About a billion birds die from glass collisions each year. You can reduce this threat by fragmenting reflective surfaces with multiple window decals such as those found at If window collisions continue to occur, consider installing window netting, films, or ribbons (see

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Author Profile

Steve Kress

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


0hour app can save your life

0hour app can save your life

My greatest challenge in

My greatest challenge in bird-feeding is House Sparrows. I tried strings on my tube feeder, which deterred them briefly. I got an upside-down suet feeder and they are learning to feed upside down. Even safflower seeds only work a little--they still come to the safflower feeder. They are such pests!

There's a company from

There's a company from Germany, new in the USA, that produces bird protection glass. On the inside you see clear glass, but on the outside it looks glazed so there's no reflection - alerting birds to a barrier. The company is called Ornilux by Arnold Glas. I am trying to find a glass contractor in Orange County, CA to install this glass. If anyone has heard of this product and know of someone who works with it, please let me and Audubon know. Thanks.

The company is Ornilux. This

The company is Ornilux. This is the website I first read about it and maybe it will help guide you in the right direction

Nov. 2, 2013 30 years ago I

Nov. 2, 2013
30 years ago I was involved with a company located in Berkeley CA. or next door to it. They designed and manufactured machines to coat glass with various metals (sputtering). The coating was designed to keep heat/cold in or out or sun light out. The glass was mainly used in high rise office buildings also cars. I could see such a coating being designed specifically to keep birds from colliding with glass. The problem would be to get it in small quantities as needed for a home. Depending on design, some of these coatings may not be desirable for residential units. Be fully informed before installing it. (I have a couple of windows that should have such coated glass).
Norbert Beising
Mech. Engineer Ret.

As a birdfeeding cat owner,I

As a birdfeeding cat owner,I put bibs on my cats when they go outside .Tjey seem to work andcats don't mind having them on. I have a dog that has killed. fledglings so not just cats are. a danger .I bell tge dog now.

If you are worried about

If you are worried about using chlorine (or non-chlorine) bleach, you can use common "over the counter" peroxide to clean hummingbird feeders. I clean my with soap & water, then rinse, rinse with full strength peroxide, then rinse twice before drying & storing. Hope this helps.

The collection of urine from

The collection of urine from an animal is a horribly cruel practice, and this includes horse urine for Premarin. It should be outlawed. One option to discourage cats from your backyard is obvious: get a nice big dog. I've never had a dog who bothered birds, but the cats don't like them much! Just having a fresh scent of dogs in your yard discourages our feline friends, and the dog(s) stay in the yard during the daytime hours when the birds are feeding.

I read that making vibrant

I read that making vibrant colored collars out of cloth and elastic bands(like ladies wear hair ties.) Birds can see the vibrant colors and flee before they get close enough.

This must be an error -

This must be an error - "non-chlorine" bleach? What's the point? A 10% solution of "chlorine" bleach is what's usually recommended, to kill, molds, mildew, bacteria, etc. As far as I know - non-chlorine bleach is just good for washing synthetic whites..?

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