Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Help Birds To Survive Winter Storms
January 07, 2017
by Steve Grinley

     Winter storms can be a struggle for many of us. They can be particularly hard on the birds. The birds seem to know when a storm is approaching, as they flock to the feeders in the days before the storm, fueling up to sustain themselves through the worst of it. It seems that they can predict the weather with more certainty than our best-trained meteorologists. We have tens of goldfinches, occupying every available perch on our thistle feeders, devouring the Nyger seed to help them survive impending storms.

     Birds are supplementing their natural food with the seed and suet at your feeders. The availability of feeder-food makes it a bit easier for them, especially right after a storm when natural seed supplies may be covered with snow or caked in ice. So it is important to go out right after a storm and clear the feeders of snow and ice. Blizzard conditions that hit us with wet, sticky snow that is blown horizontally can cover feeders or plug feeding ports. There are few feeders that don’ require some clearing after a New England storm.

     Scrape away all snow and ice, especially from the perch areas and around the feeding ports on the feeders. I often have to scrape the snow off the suet and hanging seed cakes. Sometimes you have to repeat the process during and after a storm. The reward comes when you look out and discover a common redpoll or pine siskin has joined the flock of goldfinches at the thistle feeders.

     In addition to seed and suet, you can put out some fruit for the fruit eating birds including robins, bluebirds and mockingbirds. If you have plantings in your yard such as crab apple, winterberry or holly, cedar waxwings, wintering hermit thrushes or catbirds might also feast on the natural fruit. In recent years, area residents have had western tanager and yellow-breasted chat eating apple, oranges and sunflower hearts at their feeders. 

     If you have a heated bird bath, many birds will flock to it as fresh water becomes more unavailable with these frigid temperatures. Even birds that don’t normally visit feeders may take advantage of the open water. Many customers have told me that bluebirds show up at their birdbath after a winter storm.

     At the height of the storm, and during these long, cold New England nights, birds seek shelter wherever they can find it. Some choose thickets, brush piles, evergreens, rhododendron, or other sheltering shrubs and trees. Some will crowd into cavities in trees, building and other structures to keep warm. You can help the birds by putting up roosting boxes or roosting pockets where birds can huddle to keep warm. Birds also use nesting boxes for roosting, so if you have bird houses around your yard that you have left up for the winter, these will provide added shelter at night for the birds. You can add grasses, cotton, or dryer lint to the boxes to add further insulation for the birds.

     A West Newbury resident use to have a bird-cam in one of her bluebird nesting boxes which she monitored during the spring and summer. She kept the nesting box up during the winter but had rolled up the cord from the camera to store for the winter. One winter day, she saw the bluebirds checking out the box week and she decided to hook the camera back up to her TV. Because the camera had infrared, she could watch what transpired in the house at night. 

     The first night, five bluebirds were jockeying for position in the bird house, fighting one another until two got expelled. She watched the remaining three bluebirds hunker down for the night. She watched the next night and all five bluebirds had apparently come to terms, all huddling together in the one box. They must have figured out that the body heat of five was better than three!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply