Just because the leaves have fallen and the grass is no longer visible under inches of snow doesn't mean that the wildlife is gone–especially the best kind of wildlife. In this case, birds. While winter might not be the most colorful time of the year, many birds are still in their resplendent glory: bright red cardinals and soft pink juncos, black-capped chickadees and brilliant blue stellar jays. Attract the avian species to your winter backyard with just a few simple changes, and reap the benefits all year long.
1) Plant native species
Prioritizing native species in your landscaping does more than save water–it also attracts native bird species to your yard. Whereas fruit trees are long past harvest and pretty perennials are hibernating below ground, some shrubs and trees have berries all winter long. For those living in the Southwest, try California wax myrtle; those in the Northwest can try conifers like spruce, hemlock or cedar.
2) Stock your feeders
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean the birds are going away–in fact, food sources are the hardest to find this time of the year. Ensure your feeders are well-stocked; chickadees love black oil sunflower seeds while finches prefer nyjer/niger or thistle. Woodpeckers, including the large pileated woodpecker, adore suet feeders–high in fat and a sustaining energy source, suet is well-loved by many species.
3) Keep your birdbath running
It may be tempting to decommission the birdbath until spring, but water is necessary year-round and freezing temperatures often mean sources are harder to find. Installing a birdbath heater/ de-icer can be helpful for those who live in very cold conditions; in mild climates, a water re-circulator works well and can look appealing with a fountain.
4) Eliminate or reduce pesticides
Unnecessary chemicals or fertilizers can be harmful or even toxic to birds and insects – a favorite food source for birds. Reducing the size of manicured lawns and instead replacing these with shrubs or trees for wind protection and shelter will be seen as a welcome reprieve. Instead of bagging up leaves, rake piles under trees; the decaying plant matter will attract bugs, which means more birds!
5) Clean out old nests
Birds can spread diseases to one another, just like humans; by cleaning out old nests or boxes, you’re also ensuring that you’ll have new residents come spring–and everyone’s delighted by fresh digs.
Bonus: Now that you’ve attracted birds to your winter wonderland, consider putting stickers on windows to prevent your new-found backyard tenants from becoming a statistic: upwards of 1 billion birds die each year due to window collisions.
Ready to do some counting? The Christmas Bird Count, run by the Audubon Society, hosts a yearly count, right from the comfort of your own winter wonderland.