Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Prepare Your Yard Now for Fall and Winter Birds
September 22, 2018
By Steve Grinley
With some dry, crisp days finally upon us, this taste of autumn makes it a good time to remind you of some tips to prepare your yard for wintering birds in the months ahead:
The nesting season is over, so now is the time to clean out your nest boxes from the summer nesting season. Open the box and brush out the contents with a whisk broom or brush. A clean nest box is an inviting winter roost for chickadees, nuthatches, bluebirds and other passerines seeking shelter. Several birds will huddle together to keep warm on those frigid nights. If your nest box has a convertible front, switch the opening from the top to the bottom of the box to retain more heat. A clean owl box might invite a screech owl to roost during the coming winter days. Also remember to clean all nesting boxes out once more in early spring to ready them for the nesting season.
Leave the heads of your perennial flowers to go to seed as a source of food for goldfinches, house finches, titmice and chickadees. These birds enjoy the seeds of many backyard flowers including bee balm, black-eyed Susan, and coneflower.
If you haven’t been feeding the birds all summer, now is the time to dust off those feeders, give them a good cleaning and fill them with fresh seed. If you have been feeding all summer, now is a good time to clean your feeders if you haven’t done so recently. Wash them with soap and water and, if necessary, a ten percent bleach or vinegar solution to kill any bacteria. Rinse thoroughly and let them dry completely before adding fresh seed.
There are many new feeders on the market that are easier to clean. It is usually near the base of the feeder where seed gets wet and moldy, so access to that area for cleaning is critical. We like the Aspects tube feeders that have “Quick-Clean” bases that are easily removed for cleaning with the push of a button. Droll Yankees also have tube feeders with removable bases as well as a new “Pull Ring” tube feeder that dissembles completely with the pull of a rod – no tools necessary. The most popular squirrel-proof feeders, the Squirrel Buster feeders, disassemble easily for cleaning. Keeping feeders clean, with fresh seed, is key to attracting more birds and protecting their health
Now is also the time to assess whether you may want to add more feeders. If you have not been feeding suet all summer (and you certainly can), now is the time to offer suet to your woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice. Suet is a great source of fat to help these birds survive the increasingly cooler nights. Many other birds enjoy suet including bluebirds, Carolina wrens, or a wintering oriole or warbler.
A thistle feeder will lure goldfinches and house finches. Nyger (thistle) or a finch mix, with Nyger and crushed sunflower meats, attracts the goldfinches and house finches as well as winter finches such as redpolls or pine siskins. A peanut feeder will draw woodpeckers, nuthatches, and tufted titmice. Peanuts are also high in fat and can be put out alone, or in a woodpecker mix or cake that will be welcomed by many cold weather birds.
Now is a good time to provide suet for birds to help build body fat for protection during these colder nights. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, brown creepers and many other birds will appreciate suet.
Sunflower and mixed seed feeders attract the widest variety of birds. Quality seed is an important consideration for your winter bird feeding. Black oil sunflower has a high fat content that helps birds store energy and keep warm. So if you choose a seed mix, select one that is high in sunflower, as that is the preferred seed of many feeder birds.
A little safflower will encourage cardinals while white millet and cracked corn is enjoyed by juncos, sparrows and other ground feeding birds. Juncos are already arriving so it is time to start encouraging them to your yard.
Though I said it before, fresh water becomes a scarce commodity in the colder weather so you should consider a bird bath with a heater. Some bird baths have built-in heaters with thermostats and are very energy efficient. Energy efficient de-icers can be added to any bath to keep them ice-free for the birds. Open water will draw all types of birds throughout the colder months. Again, place the bird bath where you can view it from a window for your enjoyment throughout the colder seasons.
A little planning and preparation now will mean a season of enjoyment, watching the birds in your yard from the comfort of your home.
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