Sunday, December 28, 2014

Helping Birds During The Cold Winter Months

RELEASE OF THE WEEK:  A Barred Owl (photo above) is released after three weeks of intensive care after being struck by a car while flying across the road. The bird suffered severe internal hemorrhaging and brain swelling. Photo by Tony Greenleaf

By Catherine Greenleaf

Many birds that visit our backyards during spring and summer migrate to warmer southern climates during the winter. However, there are a number of bird species that remain here in New Hampshire, including Nuthatches, Juncos, Redpolls, Tufted Titmice, Evening Grosbeaks, Cardinals, Purple Finches, American Goldfinches, and Pine Siskins. These birds can certainly use your help to survive the cold weather:

1. Don’t rake all your leaves. By allowing some leaves to stay put you provide insects, a rich source of protein for birds. Insects have a tendency to hide under leaf litter and birds need to eat protein-rich insects to survive, especially young birds.

2. Many gardeners chop down all of their perennial plants after the frost. But leaving some of your plants standing will offer hungry birds delicious seed heads to feast on. Sometimes seed heads are the major source of food that keeps birds, like the Black-Capped Chickadee, alive through the freezing winter.

3. Instead of carting off all your dead twigs and sticks to the dump, create a brush pile in your backyard. This pile will provide a much-needed warm and dry place for birds to roost during major snow and ice storms. It’s also a perfect hiding place to stay safe from predators.

4. Leave up those dead trees. One of the best sources of tasty insects and warm holes to hide in is a dead tree. If the tree poses no safety hazard, allow it to stand and you will benefit species from owls to the tiniest songbirds. In fact, keeping dead trees on your property will prevent woodpeckers from drilling for insects in the wood frame of your house.

5. Provide roosting pockets or shelves. Roosting pockets are tiny, little huts made of braided grass that you can hang up on tree branches. These huts provide a warm place for cold birds to hang out in while a storm is raging. Roosting shelves are made of wood and attached to trees. They have a roof with a deep shelf inside. Often you may see half a dozen or more birds huddled together inside to stay warm during a sub-zero cold snap.

6. Birds need water, especially during the winter. You can place a shallow bowl of clean, warm water outdoors, in an elevated location safe from predators. You can even provide a heated birdbath, which the birds will love. Birds need water to stay hydrated and digest their food. They also need the water to clean their feathers, since soiled feathers can prevent the bird from maintaining adequate protection from the cold and rain.

7. If you elect to hang birdfeeders in your yard, you’ll want to make sure the feeders are clean. Birdfeeders can collect dirt, feces and mold, which can make birds sick. Scrub the inside and outside of your feeders with a long-handled brush, using a diluted bleach solution, and then rinse thoroughly. Only fill the feeder when completely dry to avoid mold contamination. Be sure to buy seed only from the highest quality companies. Always give your bag of birdseed the sniff test. If it smells moldy, put it in the garbage can.

8. Install bird feeders at least 30 feet away from any sliding glass doors or windows. Fifty feet would be even better. Many birds die each year from flying into glass. In warmer weather, if the injury is mild, the bird may recover in just a few minutes. However, in cold weather, a bird with even the mildest of concussions quickly succumbs to hypothermia. Put the bird in a shoebox, bring the bird indoors, and call your local wildlife rehabilitator.

By making just a few of the changes suggested above, you can save the life of many a bird!

Copyright 2014