Winterize Your Yard for Birds

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 windowalert.com. If window collisions continue to occur, consider installing window netting, films, or ribbons (see flap.org/residential.php).

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Author Profile

Steve Kress

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

This actually works in my

This actually works in my yard to deter cats or at least to make it more difficult to catch the birds, I place chicken wire (about four feet high) on the ground and encircle the area under the bird feeder. Leave approximately four to five feet from the feeder center .This way the cats have the obstacle of a fence to jump over, and slows the cat down. Try to leave enough space underneath the wire for birds to escape if cornered. It may not be the prettiest BUT I have watched the neighbors cat try to jump over to catch the birds but it really does give the birds time to escape.

This actually works in my

This actually works in my yard to deter cats or at least to make it more difficult to catch the birds, I place chicken wire (about four feet high) on the ground and encircle the area under the bird feeder. Leave approximately four to five feet from the feeder center .This way the cats have the obstacle of a fence to jump over, and slows the cat down. Try to leave enough space underneath the wire for birds to escape if cornered. It may not be the prettiest BUT I have watched the neighbors cat try to jump over to catch the birds but it really does give the birds time to escape.

Please research the method

Please research the method for collecting coyote urine before purchasing such an item. While one can understand and appreciate you wanting to save the birds from predators, such as cats, the conditions under which coyote urine is collected is rather cruel. Coyotes are enslaved in tight cages so cramped that they are unable to move. An apparatus is then adhered to its body in order to "collect the urine." Sounds like animal cruelty to me...

It's possible to purchase

It's possible to purchase coyote urine (really!), a cat deterrent, even tho it just made our raccoons mad. Put cotton ball in a soft plastic vial, punch some holes in the body of the container, slap on the top and wire it at cat level long your property.

It may be a good idea in

It may be a good idea in Eastern Pennsylvania to keep your hummingbird feeders up , Rufus Hummingbirds are becoming more frequent visitors to our backyards in this area.

I am curious about the

I am curious about the instructions to clean bird feeders with a 10% solution of "non-chlorine" bleach. Since the whole point, I think, is to disinfect the feeders, I would follow the instructions from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (and cleaning recommendations I've seen elsewhere) to use a 10% :"bleach" solution, that is, CHLORINE bleach. If someone has evidence that diluted non-chloriine bleach is a good disinfectant for the nasty organisms which can be present in bird feeders (including salmonella), I'd like to hear more about that.

I am curious about the

I am curious about the instructions to clean bird feeders with a 10% solution of "non-chlorine" bleach. Since the whole point, I think, is to disinfect the feeders, I would follow the instructions from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (and cleaning recommendations I've seen elsewhere) to use a 10% :"bleach" solution, that is, CHLORINE bleach. If someone has evidence that diluted non-chloriine bleach is a good disinfectant for the nasty organisms which can be present in bird feeders (including salmonella), I'd like to hear more about that.

How can I discourage all the

How can I discourage all the neighborhood cats from coming into my yard and killing birds?

Also here in Santa Fe I still have several hummingbirds hanging around. Why don't they leave?

To make it harder for cats to

To make it harder for cats to catch the birds ,I place chicken wire around the center of the feeder going out about 4-5 feet. I basically enclose an area around it. This way, the cat has an obstacle to hinder its speed when pouncing. I have personally seen it work in my own yard.It gives the birds time to escape.I leave a few inches open on the bottom for birds to escape if cornered.It's not the prettiest but its nicer than finding a pile of feathers under the feeder.

And keep your cat indoors.

And keep your cat indoors. According to the American Bird Conservancy, house cats kill more than 600 MILLION birds a year in the US alone.

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