Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Help Birds Survive Late Winter
February 25, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     So much for my optimism for springtime weather last week! This past week’s sixty-degree weather was just another teaser, giving way to yet another winter blast of cold and snow.

     It seems to happen every year this way. These early migrants, show up in mid to late February only to be followed by a snowstorm or other form of extreme weather. Why don’t these birds wait another few weeks before coming to New England? You would think they would learn.

     After all, most of our winter resident birds are still here. The bald eagles are still on the river and snowy owls are still hunting on Plum Island. Tree sparrows, juncos and white-throated sparrows are still foraging for food at our bird feeders.

     Late winter and early spring are the most important times to feed backyard birds. There are few other food choices for birds since natural winter supplies of seeds and berries have dwindled. New natural seed crops won’t happen until summer and early fall, so feeding birds now will help sustain them until the warmer weather brings insects.

     As we’ve seen the past few weeks, this time of year can be a time of unpredictable weather. Even though we may get some warm days, it can be very cold at night and late season storms can blanket the area with ice and snow. Birds need to eat to stay warm. Feeders can help them to stay warm and to survive.

     So, with these extremes in weather, it is important to fill your feeders and keep suet out for the winter birds and for the returning spring birds as well. Birds visit feeders more this time of year when the natural food is unavailable and they have to work harder to find suffient food to survive.

     The available fresh water will freeze once again this coming week and you may see birds drink the water that results from the sun warming the edges of ice. It is not too late to put out a heated bird bath to provide a source of water for birds these coming weeks. As the weather turns warmer later in the spring, just don’t plug it in. But it will be there on these cold days when the birds need it the most.

     Varying your food offering can help as well. Putting out fruit and mealworms for the wintering bluebirds and robins will also be appreciated by our resident Carolina wrens and mockingbirds. Pieces of suet or “bluebird nuggets” on a tray will also help attract more birds.

     As I drive around the area, I can’t help but notice the number of empty bird feeders. Whether these are a result of the price of bird seed, or the notion that birds can “fend for themselves” as we move closer to spring, is not clear. Seed prices have risen during Covid, with supply, increased demand, processing, packaging and transportation all to blame. Still, I have seen worse increases in years past.

     Another reason for empty feeders may be that some people feel that birds can find natural food as the weather moderates. They think that birds don’t need feeders as spring approaches. As I have explained, that is far from the truth.

     It may seem premature to think about spring today, but it is only weeks away and the spring migrants are already arriving. Feeding them, and providing fresh water for them during these final days of winter will ensure their survival and provide you with much enjoyment and benefit in the months ahead.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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