One of the things I love about winter (yes, I love winter) is feeding and enjoying my backyard birds. Some of the prettiest birds, that we become so accustomed to seeing at our bird feeders in the warmer months, will remain in the area throughout winter. My favorites are always woodpeckers – downy, hairy, red-bellied, pileated – as well as chickadees, nuthatches, junkos and, of course, cardinals. Birds are not totally dependent on our assistance in winter – they forage for seeds and food, obtain fat from carrion and can get moisture from seeds. But on those really cold, snowy days, birds will stay huddled in the shelter of an evergreen, knowing they can’t afford to expend the energy to search for food.
Small birds, like chickadees, can die in two or three days because of the snow coverage and cold. Giving them a “fast-food, fly-up window,” like your feeder, can save them from this awful fate. Sometimes it’s an effort to shovel my way out to my feeder, but I feel as though I’m really helping the birds to survive, and they pay me back by giving me hours and hours of viewing enjoyment.
To make your home a winter haven for birds, a few things are essential. Water is hard to come by in the dead of winter, so I like to use a heated bird bath. There are several versions of these, but I prefer those with the heating element encased in the plastic bowl. You will love watching your feathered friends crowd around the bath in the winter. Another great item to put up is a roost. This is a winterized version of the birdhouse (which is simply a large, open space with only perches inside), where birds can go for shelter from the cold and wet weather.
I can’t think of a better way to spend time in winter – whether it’s several minutes watching from a big easy chair, or a fleeting moment at the kitchen sink – than watching our feathered friends enjoy the bounty we’ve provided, and the sanctuary they’ve found in our own backyard.
A Great Winter Spot for Birds
Just beyond your backyard, Mendon Ponds Park and its Wild Wings sanctuary are winter favorites for local bird enthusiasts. For a truly enthralling experience, the park has set up a trail specifically for bird watching and feeding. You can bring your own black oil sunflower seed, but I always buy some at The Cottage Store, to help support this non profit organization.
On the trail, chickadees and nuthatches will land and eat out of your hand. If you’ve never felt a bird on your finger, it’s stunning to notice how light one is – and how brave these birds are to land on such a big person walking through their woods! On a sunny day after a light snow, this place will take your breath away.
As an added bonus, visit the Wild Wings sanctuary – where raptors, unable to re-enter the wild because of injuries or circumstances, have been taken in and rehabilitated. You will see these gorgeous creatures close up and, whenever possible, handlers are available to allow for interaction with the birds. You may see the golden eagle, bald eagle, snowy owl, great horned owl, hawk, falcon and many more.
Take the kids, it’s free – and is guaranteed to kick-start their interest in attracting and feeding birds in their own backyard sanctuary. For more information, visit wildwingsinc.org.
by K. C. Fahy-Harvick