February is National Bird Feeding Month
Now that we are in the throws of winter, and the coldest month of the year is upon us, it is a good time to assess how the birds are doing. This time of year is especially difficult for them. If given a little assistance, their chances of survival are greatly increased.
One of the easiest things to provide, and high on the list of needs, is water. Adding a heater or deicer coil to an existing birdbath can provide the perfect winter oasis for your feathered friends. Just be sure to keep the birdbath clean.
Providing shelter is another way to help. There is a shortage of nesting sites for cavity-nesting birds due to land development, and the use of pesticides. The use of birdhouses and nesting boxes has helped many species make a comeback. Landscaping that provides shelter can also be a great help. Evergreen trees and shrubs provide a welcome resting place out of the wind, snow or rain. Birds gather in groups towards the inside and huddle together to create more warmth. Placing food and water near these nesting or respite areas allows them to make shorter journeys for these things. More than 50 species of birds will use birdhouses including Chickadees, Bluebirds, Titmice, Woodpeckers, Wrens, Swallows and Nuthatches.
One of the requirements for a good bird house is that it must to be able to open up for cleaning. They must have ventilation holes in the bottom (these should be plugged up for winter roosting). The houses should have a slanted roof to allow for water runoff, and it should NOT have perches. Cavity-nesting birds do not need them, and the perches only allow predator access to the nest.
The final piece of the puzzle is providing food. Particularly here in Missouri, winter is a difficult time for the bird species that have chosen to overwinter here. The days are short and cold. There is little to no vegetation, and most of the insects are dead or dormant. Now is an excellent time to purchase a feeder if you do not already have one. Most songbirds feed on insects and spiders during the spring and summer; however, the non-migratory species switch to fruit and seeds in the fall and winter. Black oil sunflower seeds are preferred by the largest number of bird species. Not only are these seeds very nutritious and high in fat, but their small size makes them easier for smaller species to split them open. Be sure to scatter some seed on the ground and beneath trees and shrubs for birds that prefer to feed in these locations. Feeders with platforms provide the right type of feeding station for species that do not perch, such as Cardinals. High-energy food, like suet and peanut butter, are an added benefit for all birds and provide much needed fat. So I hope now you enjoy the antics of our feathered friends.
Having fun in the garden,
Sandi Hillermann McDonald