LONGMONT – As days shorten and the weather turns chilly, gardeners are cleaning up debris, tidying beds, and tucking everything in for the winter. We do so with a sigh of relief; the prolonged pace of tending the garden slows as fall deepens and holidays distract us.
But now is not the time to think only of ourselves; smaller denizens in the garden need us to get over ourselves and think about their needs as well. Insects make use of fallen leaves or seed heads for refuge and protection from weather; spiders tuck themselves into nooks in the mulch to overwinter.
Some garden members stay active, however, and in a seemingly barren winterscape, it’s nice to have the raucous activity of birds. Keep them around by providing food and water.
Birds with access to feeders tend to have higher winter survival rates, especially if we have season-long cold. Food is energy for staying warm, but if you’re concerned about them becoming dependent on the feeder, relax. Studies have shown that only 15 to 25-percent of their food comes from feeders and they forage readily to fill in the rest.
There’s a wide selection of seed and feeding stations available for backyard birds.
Many birds, like sparrows and doves, prefer to feed on large, flat surfaces and may not visit any type of hanging feeder. To give them something to dine on, spread seed on the ground.
If that’s too messy for your taste, consider a hopper or platform feeder. Hoppers are platforms with walls and a roof that protects seed against the weather. A platform feeder is any flat, raised surface to spread bird food and can have a roof to keep seeds dry. It should have plenty of drainage holes to prevent water accumulation. Place it near the ground to attract juncos, doves, and sparrows if squirrels aren’t a problem.
Tube feeders are hollow cylinders with multiple feeding ports and perches. Feeders with short perches give an edge to small birds while excluding larger birds that can be bullies. The size of the feeding ports varies as well, depending on the type of seed to be offered. Small feeding ports are ideal for nyjer seed, which is excellent for smaller birds, especially finches, juncos and sparrows.
One essential menu item is suet. Suet is pure fat with some seed, fruit, or insect carcasses and provides high energy in winter when birds need lots of calories to keep warm. Suet attracts flickers, woodpeckers, and chickadees.
The most common type of seed and one that packs a lot of energy for the feathered friends is black-oil sunflower seed. This small sunflower seed has thin shells, making it easy to crack open and popular with many birds, such as chickadees, finches, sparrows, and occasionally, woodpeckers.
Hulled sunflower seeds have the shell removed for quick eating and a “no mess” type of feed. Many species will actually prefer to feed on this easy, work-free meal. Be sure to keep the seed dry because it tends to spoil more quickly than sunflower in the shell.
Water is another essential for birds in winter for drinking and bathing. Change the water often to prevent it from stagnating and keep ice from freezing it solid.
By Carol O’Meara. Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Colorado State University Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.