Help the Birds this Fall and Winter!

Fall is here and Winter is coming!  It’s never too early to start thinking about our winged feathered friends, and to start preparing to help them out as the season begins to change towards cooler weather.

Winter is a fragile time for wild birds (as well as wild and stray animals), and not all will be lucky to survive through it. Yes, birds have acquired adaptive behaviors, but they also rely on us for survival, particularly if you have been feeding them in the Spring and Summer months, because birds have established your feeding area as their food source already.

When to take down your Hummingbird Feeder
If you have been putting out nectar or sugar water for hummingbirds all Spring and Summer, it’s best to keep that feeder up until the first frost. Why? Because hummingbirds remember their regular feeding stations and will depend on that food source as their last supper before expending great amounts of energy to migrate hundreds of miles to warmer weather. For any stragglers that are still getting ready for that big migration trip, they need to eat (drink) as much as possible before moving on. Make it easy for them by keeping their food source available as long as possible.

Adding Birdbaths with Heaters
Birds need a source of open water to drink and to bathe. They may have to fly great distances in winter to find unfrozen water sources. Water is not only important for hydration, it also helps birds preen their feathers. Without proper preening, birds’ feathers won’t stay positioned and aligned. This can create gaps in insulation, which makes birds lose body heat faster.

A birdbath heater keeps water open in freezing temperatures and is a welcome sight to wild birds (as well as wild or stray animals).

Providing Feeders
The most important thing to remember, if you are not a year-around feeder, is that birds begin to look for reliable backyard feeders in late Summer to early Fall.  Reliable: being responsible for keeping feeders clean and filled daily through the cold months.

If you are not feeding during this time, you may miss the opportunity to attract birds during the winter. Be sure to hang feeders in August or September for winter feeding.

PLEASE KEEP IN MIND that if you start feeding the birds for the winter, DON’T STOP. They will count on your feeding station to keep the feeders stocked all winter season long. Birds that have their reliable feeding stations take away in the Winter can starve to death.

What to Feed
Never feed bread.  Bread is empty calories for birds and provides NO nutritional support.

Cold weather increases a bird’s caloric requirements at a time when food is most scarce. There are no insects flying around. Seeds, weeds, fruits and nuts are often used up or covered in snow – many birds are unable to burrow under the snow to get at anything that may be good for them to eat. 

Needless to say, Winter is a stressful time for non-migratory birds.

You can help birds endure the Winter by offering a variety of peanuts, nyjer seed, safflower, suet, black oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, and mixed seed WITHOUT those little round balls of “filler” seeds that have no value and are often left alone by birds.  These foods are supremely nutritious and provide what birds need for fuel.

Remember, not all birds will come to a hanging feeder.  Some birds prefer the ground. With that said, be sure to shovel the snow away from ground feeding areas so birds don’t have to try to dig for their food (this takes up energy).

Offering Nest Boxes and Birdhouses
Protection from the weather is hard to find during the winter. Trees have lost their leaves, and many homeowners have cleared their yards of brush and branches. Give wild birds protection and safety from the elements, and a place they can rest to conserve energy. 

Birds stay warm at night roosting with other birds in tree cavities or man-made nesting boxes. Help them by cleaning nests and other debris out of birdhouses at the end of the breeding season so they can use these spots for roosting in Winter.

Spot a sick bird?
If you see a bird not acting right, or that needs some help: if the bird is small, get it out of the cold, into something small and comfy (think box lined with a towel) and call a bird rehabber.

For larger birds (think geese), call a local rehabber.  Many times one will be left behind due to injury or illness. You may need to go back daily to the site of the spotting to put down food and water in the event that the bird is injured, cannot fly, and there is no food or water source around.  Larger birds can survive the Winter if someone is kind enough to bring the bird to the attention of a rehabber and make the effort to feed and water it every day during the winter months.

Be kind and compassionate if you spot a stray animal at your bird feeding station. If they are poking around your feeders, chances are they are thirsty, cold, hungry and alone.  You may be able to trap a stray that comes routinely to eat, drink or rest. Make a call to see if a local rehabber can help.  At the very least, put up a shelter and put out some food other than birdseed.  Strays need help, too.

What other tips do you have to help birds in cold weather? Let us know, and we’ll be happy to share the information!

We can ALL make it a better Winter season for birds!

Happy and Safe Birding!

Animal Advocacy Founder signature Janet Bovitz Sandefur



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