Preparing Your Yard for Winter Birds

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As the fall weather shifts to colder temperatures, the types of birds in your yard will change as well. Sparrows, kinglets, and juncos begin arriving in North Carolina in October and November, and you can take a few simple steps to attract these birds to your backyard.

As deciduous trees and shrubs drop their leaves, dense cover becomes critical.

Dense vegetation provides birds with places to escape from harsh weather and predators, such as hawks or house cats. It is important to provide evergreen trees and shrubs, including native pines, American holly, yaupon, wax myrtle, and eastern redcedar, in your backyard, especially adjacent to important feeding and watering spots. Evergreens or dense shrubbery can provide nighttime roosting spots for birds throughout the year, especially during harsh winter weather.

Most wintering birds eat seeds, so erecting feeders can increase food resources for birds.

Feeders supplement the natural foods in your backyard and concentrate bird activity for easy viewing. Black oil sunflower, safflower, white millet, and thistle seeds are all preferred types of birdseed. It’s best to buy each seed type separately and in bulk. Seed mixes often contain empty seed hulls and undesirable seed types. Buying in bulk also cuts down on cost.

  • Sunflower seeds are the best all-around seed type for your feeders. The larger white-striped sunflower seeds are not as desirable as black oil sunflower seeds because the white stripes have less of their weight in the kernel. Sunflower seeds generally should be presented in above-ground platform feeders or covered feeders. Cardinals, chickadees, and titmice eat sunflower seeds.
  • Thistle seeds can be used in the popular tube feeders or in mesh bags. Thistle attracts American goldfinches, pine siskins, and purple finches.
  • White millet should be spread on the ground beneath shrubs, in piles of brush or plant clippings, or under above-ground feeders. Juncos, mourning doves, and sparrows eat millet.
  • Suet, whether store-bought or homemade, is enjoyed by an incredible variety of birds, including bluebirds, nuthatches, pine warblers, woodpeckers, wrens, and yellow-rumped warblers. To make suet at home, mix raisins, chopped apples, leftover birdseed, oatmeal, peanut hearts, cracked corned, or peanut butter with melted animal fat, vegetable shortening, or lard. Straight peanut butter is not recommended because birds may have trouble swallowing it.

Feeders should be located within 10 feet of dense cover, especially evergreen plants. This allows smaller birds to quickly escape into nearby cover from predators like Cooper’s hawks. However, feeders placed within shrubbery are easily accessible to stalking cats, and feeders placed close to windows can lead to bird-window collisions. Feeders should be cleaned every 2 to 3 weeks to prevent disease transmission among birds.

Many wintering birds will use cover provided by brush piles.

Stacks of fall or pruned tree limbs placed at right angles to each other make a base for the pile. You can place treetops or old Christmas trees on the pile as it grows. Ideal piles are 4 to 8 feet tall and from 10 to 20 feet in diameter. Well-constructed brush piles can supplement vegetation cover for 10-15 years. Situate brush piles in close proximity to food sources and other vegetation cover. Isolated piles will receive little use. Be sure that it’s ok to have a brush pile in your yard and that it does not violate a local or neighborhood ordinance. You can place the piles in odd
corners that are out of sight of neighbors if aesthetics are a concern.

man looking through binocularsThese few simple steps should produce instant results, so get out your binoculars and field guides as the birds pile in for the long winter.