Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Prepare Your Yard Now for Wintering Birds
October 22, 2011
By Steve Grinley
These past weeks, I have talked about how the warmer than normal temperatures and southwest winds brought in some rare birds from the west and south. But as winds shift, as they so often do here in New England, and winds blow in from the north, we start experiencing colder temperatures, especially at night. We have time to prepare for those northern visitors who grace our feeders each winter.
The activity at the feeders has slowed these past weeks for many. Our usual flock of goldfinches has dwindled to just a few individuals as the finches take advantage of the abundance of natural seeds that is available during autumn. The hummingbirds and orioles have departed for warmer climates. The good news is that many of the grackles have left the area as well. Those that are still flocking will move south over the coming weeks and your feeders will finally be available for many of the smaller birds again.
As the natural seed supply is depleted, our resident finches, chickadees, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers will return to the feeders to supplement their diet. Juncos, white-throated sparrows, pine siskins, redpolls, and other winter finches may descend upon us soon. Now is the time to prepare for their return, before it becomes too cold to work outdoors. So as you rake the leaves and prepare your house and yard for winter, think about preparing your yard for the winter birds as well.
If you haven’t fed the birds all summer, you may want to take out the feeders and be sure that they are clean and in good repair. Get replacement parts if you need them. If you have been feeding throughout the summer, now may be a good time to clean those feeders if you haven’t done it in a while. The recent rains have played havoc with seed and can cause it to go bad right in the feeder. Mildew and bacteria can build in an unkept feeder and can harm the birds, or cause them to avoid your feeder completely.
Clean you feeders with soap and water. If there is bacteria build up, use a 10% bleach solution to kill any germs. Some people also recommend vinegar. Be sure to disassemble all parts where mold may be lingering, because it will return rapidly if you don’t. There are many “easy open” feeders on the market today that make this cleaning chore a lot easier. Then rinse your feeder thoroughly, let it dry completely, and then add fresh seed.
Be sure that you position your feeders where you can see them from the house. That is the fun of having feeders in the first place – so you can enjoy the company of birds on those cold winter days. You may want to add a pole in front of a window, or a bracket off the deck, to view the birds better. Also think about access to the feeders to fill and maintain them when there is a foot of snow on the ground. If you think about it now, putting a pole in the ground is a lot easier now than after the ground freezes in a month or two.
If squirrels are a problem, try isolating a pole away from anything from which a squirrel can jump, and put a good baffle on the pole to prevent the squirrel from climbing up the pole (yes, they can even climb the skinniest poles). Then you can hang most any feeder off the pole without fear of squirrels getting to it. If you want to hang a feeder from a tree, there are baffles that can hang above the feeder to deter squirrels but, again, it has to be hung far enough from the tree trunk or other hanging branch such that the squirrel can’t jump to it from the side. They can jump further than you think!
If these won’t work for your situation and you know that the squirrel will get to the feeder where you want to place it (off the deck, for instance), then there are a few squirrel-proof feeders that are ninety-nine percent effective. (I never say “never” when it comes to squirrels.) Some of these feeders are so effective that customers return to buy more of them for their yard, or as a gift for a friend that is particularly frustrated with squirrels eating all their bird seed. These feeders do get pricey, but they easily pay for themselves with what you will save in bird seed costs.
Many people enjoy feeding the squirrels – OK, a few people – and they often feed the squirrels separately. Ears of corn can be put out for the squirrels, or a mixture of corn, seeds and nuts. A platform feeder near the ground will not only attract the squirrels, but it will also be enjoyed by cardinals, juncos, and other ground feeding birds.
Also remember to plan to provide water for the birds during the colder months, when fresh water becomes scarce. A deicer for you bird bath is a good way to keep fresh water available. Or if your bird bath is ceramic or cement, you may want to bring that in for the winter and add a plastic bath that has a built in heater. There heated baths and separate deicers are energy efficient, most using low wattage, and have built in thermostats that turn them on and off with the temperature.
Planning for the birds now will not only help you capture some of the cool migrants going through your yard now, but it will provide for months of enjoyment during the colder winter months. It helps the birds survive and, in some ways, it helps us survive as well.
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