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Helping our Feathered FriendsMaster Gardener Scoop – November 11, 2015

By Majo Bates, Master Gardener

I am reminded around Thanksgiving of our feathered friends, and I am thankful for their beauty. Our birds that winter over need assistance to get through the winter. I want to encourage you to feed birds this winter and enjoy watching the birds you feed. As temperatures fall and nature’s food supply dwindles across our area in Southern Illinois, some birds will migrate to more hospitable areas while others will stay and tough it out. Regardless of where you live, the bird populations present in our area this winter could use your assistance. Attract and welcome these feathered friends to your backyard with a bird-friendly habitat.

Creating a habitat is simple, and can be done without a full re-landscaping or owning a 20-acre farm. All it takes is a source of shelter, water and food. Birds need help finding enough food and water all year round, but especially in the winter when natural resources are limited and ice or snow may make access to berries, seeds and water more challenging.

Shelter

Offering protection from the harsh weather or from predators is essential in creating a welcoming habitat for birds. Shrubs and evergreen trees are ideal, but there are other ways to provide shelter as well. A simple birdhouse or nesting box can be hung from the porch or fence. Leaves and sticks can be piled up in a remote corner of the yard to be used as shelter or as nesting material.

Winters are long and cold, but providing a little comfort for the birds may just warm you up. Watching the different kinds of birds visiting your feeders can keep you entertained for hours, and knowing that you’ve helped these winged visitors get through the winter can make you feel good too.

Water

Water is the single-most important asset for visiting birds in your backyard. In the winter, birds can become dehydrated even when surrounded by snow and ice. That’s why providing a water source is even more important in the winter. Moving water is most attractive to birds, so an electric or solar-powered fountain or birdbath is ideal, but any clean fresh water will do. An easy solution is to place a shallow container of warm water in a sunny spot and refill it often. In our area where water is prone to freeze, bird enthusiasts may want to invest in an electric birdbath heater to encourage those feathered visitors to return frequently.

Food

I used to deadhead all of my flowers, cutting off the large seed heads every fall. I don’t do that much anymore. I love to watch the birds enjoy them. Birds enjoy finding new supplies of food and eat constantly in the winter to retain their body heat and energy. In fact, birds may come to rely on feeders, especially in severe weather, because feeders offer an easy-access meal close to their home. Remember to continually refill feeders to encourage return visitors, and always keep bird feeders clean to prevent diseases.

A simple bird feeder can be hung from a tree or stuck to a window with a suction cup to provide the essential supplement that birds appreciate all year long. But why stop there? Get your whole family involved creating outdoor winter decorations that add a pop of color and whimsy to the backyard or balcony. Use pinecones, peanut butter, and bird food to make your own mini feeders. Add slices of apples, pears and oranges to a festive evergreen wreath that the aviary community will eat up. String whole nuts, cranberries and even popcorn into attractive garland from the porch for the wildlife to enjoy. Cut oranges or grapefruit in half, scoop out the middle and fill with bird food for little feeding stations that will last all winter. Don’t forget that birds can also get food as well as shelter all year round when native shrubs and plants are used in the landscape. Whether in a pot on the deck or spread out around the yard, native shrubs like sumac, holly, saltbush, hackberry or hawthorn can provide berries and seeds that birds love to eat.

Everything began in a garden. Enjoy yours and make your garden winter friendly to our feathered friends.

Helping our Feathered Friends