Has gray winter weather got you feeling shut in and blue, wishing you were outside enjoying flowers and sunshine?
Lend a hand to the birds in your garden and it might just put the bounce back in your step. There are many fun and easy steps you can take to help the birds with food and habitat needs in the winter.
First, let's look at habitat.
Plants for food and shelter
It's cold out, the ground is hard and most nurseries aren't selling much in the way of plants right now. Luckily there are many good online plant catalogues worth browsing for ideas to enhance your garden come spring, and make it more bird-friendly year-round.
If you aren't seeing many birds in your garden right now, it probably needs more plants that provide shelter and food. Now is a good time to draw up a list of plant choices to shop for this spring. Think about planting trees and shrubs that retain their fruit through the winter. Dogwood's high-fat berries make it an excellent small tree choice for attracting birds.
Look also for blue elderberry and serviceberry plants — both are great food sources for migrating and overwintering birds.
Western red cedar and Willamette Valley ponderosa pine are excellent native tree choices; be sure to read up on their space requirements so you'll know whether your garden is big enough to accommodate them. A magnolia is another great idea, as well as holly, as the berries on some hollies will last until spring.
Remember that landscaping in layers (trees, shrubs, herbs and ground covers) provides habitat for a wide variety of birds visiting your garden.
Hang a bird house
Plant material specialist Kathy Pendergrass with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service offers these helpful thoughts about bird houses. "There's a lack of cavities for our cavity-nesting birds in urban landscapes, so hanging some bird houses ahead of the spring breeding season may garner more birds in our backyards," Pendergrass says.
An advantage to the homeowner? "Some of these birds can be ravenous mosquito eaters and control other pests and insects," she adds.
Did you remember not to deadhead all of your flowers last fall? Birds love to pick through them for seeds and sustenance!
To attract birds now, hang a tube feeder filled with black oil sunflower or mixed seeds. Add a suet feeder for woodpeckers, nuthatches and especially the chickadees in your neighborhood. Peanuts attract woodpeckers and jays.
To appeal to goldfinches and pine siskin, hang a thistle filled with nyjer seed. And for a fun bird and family-friendly activity, have the kids dab pinecones with peanut butter, then roll the pine cones in bird seed and hang outside.
More natural food sources that interest birds come spring and summer include coneflowers (echinacea), sedums, sunflower, crabapple and cosmos — watch for these in your seed catalogues now.
Birds need a good water source year round … and when temperatures drop, this can become even more of a challenge. Set out a clean, shallow container of water in your garden, or install a nice birdbath.
Keep your bird feeders clean, and give them a shake to dislodge old seed before you refill them.
Follow these tips and you'll reap the rewards of fewer garden pests, a healthier local ecosystem and beautiful birds that add joy to your day.
For more information about feeding birds, as well as native plants and trees that benefit birds, visit:
Cynthia Orlando is an arborist, bird enthusiast and recent retiree from the Oregon Department of Forestry.
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