wild birds in winter is a fun family hobby that is becoming very popular
here in Southern Maryland. We are rapidly building over much of the
natural habitat of the wild birds in this area and we need to help
supplement their food sources. This is especially important in fall and
winter as they migrate through, or winter over in Southern Maryland, when
their usual sources of food are not as available. With a little effort
children and adults can be rewarded with hours of enjoyment watching the
different colorful birds and their antics.
There are two good ways to assure plentiful winter food supplies for our
feathered friends. First, we can grow plants around our yards that set
berries or seeds over the winter such as dogwood trees, eastern red cedar,
American elder, juneberry, hawthorn, winterberry bushes, poppies,
coneflowers, snapdragons, forget-me-nots, and sunflowers. Second, we can
put out bird feeders, nesting boxes, and birdbaths to attract them. This
activity can also be educational for adults as well as for children:
learning to identify specific bird species from books and discovering what
they like to eat and watching the show they put on outside our windows.
To prepare for winter, clean out old feeders, birdbaths, and nesting
boxes. Have a variety of different kinds of feeders and seeds as well as
fruit to attract different kinds of birds. Prevent squirrels from invading
your feeders and stealing all of the seed by using those feeders with
cages around them. Also, be sure to have a warmer in the birdbath so as it
gets colder it won't freeze.
Robin Affron, a Charles County Master Gardener for whom birds are a
passion, has several suggestions to attract wild birds to your yard.
"Leave up flowers that form edible seed pods such as sunflowers and
black-eyed Susans. Ornamental grasses add terrific interest to the winter
garden as well as being seed setting for birds." She also suggests, "Don't
throw away your Christmas tree. Place it in your backyard and it will be a
shelter for the birds during the rest of the winter."
Lee Duer, owner of the Wild Bird Center, Crain Highway in Waldorf and
Affron both agree that sunflower seeds and suet are some of the best
high-energy foods for birds in winter. Duer advocates "responsible
feeding" of wild birds with "preferred" seeds, not grains that will
attract unwanted animals and birds. Song birds prefer black oil sunflower
seeds, peanuts, nutmeats, nyjer and safflower seeds. Beef suet is the best
type for high caloric energy needed to keep birds warm through the winter.
Duer offers a free chart at his store to his customers that shows wild
bird seed preferences as well a newsletter full of good information and
interesting articles about wild birds.
Affron and Duer also agree on having roosting boxes available especially
during storms for birds to huddle together out of the weather to keep warm
and ride out inclement weather.
Lastly, once you start feeding, don't stop. The birds will have become
dependent on your food and water offerings to live through the winter.