Winter for birds can be challenging and very dangerous. Not all birds will choose to migrate during the winter months, which leaves them susceptible to dangerous temperatures, hungry predators, sickness, and starvation. But can birds survive the winter months without help from us? Many ornithologists believe so. In fact, many argue that humans feeding birds can make matters worse, since we are not always consistent, leaving birds that have come to rely on us as a food source, starving. But others argue that human intervention is exactly what many birds need to survive harsh winter conditions. This guide will go over the 8 ways to help feed birds in bad weather, and what to do, and what not to do when you turn into a reliable food source.
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How to Help
Feeding birds and providing adequate shelter are both great ways to ensure a bird’s survival when the temperatures are freezing and food is scarce. Many birds may already be in poor health, which is why they didn’t migrate. Just make sure the food you’re using is appropriate for the birds, depending on what type of species they are. There are some types of seeds you can use that most birds enjoy. However, for smaller birds, you will need to use smaller seed, since these birds have beaks that are not very powerful. If you don’t use the best birdhouse already, choosing one based on species will also be important.
But is helping out birds during the winter as beneficial as we think or should we take a step back and allow nature to handle it?
Studies have shown us that if we do intervene and lend a helping hand to wildlife during the winter that they have a much higher survival rate compared to birds that don’t have access to food given by humans. If done correctly, feeding your backyard birds can be very beneficial and may be exactly what they need to survive until the spring.
Make sure the seeds you provide are dry and easily accessible. You can use the best bird feeder to protect the seed supply, sheltering it from inclement weather and preventing it from getting wet, while minimizing the chances of exposure to moisture. If you do provide covered bird feeders that you use year-round, make sure you keep them clean and free from debris such as snow, dirt, leaves, and anything that can make the feeder less visible. If you don’t use a bird feeder and want to provide seeds to ground-feeding birds, then you can clear a patch of ground, removing leaves, debris, or snow, and scatter food for doves, sparrows, and other species of birds that normally forage for food on the ground.
Stock Up on Feeders
In bad weather, it’s always good to have extra feeders on hand, including bee-proof oriole feeders. Keep these extra feeders clean and ready to go. When snow or a rainstorm hits, especially if there is wind there’s not much you can do to keep the seeds dry. Having extra feeders on hand allows you to hang up new food right away in the midst of bad weather, providing birds with a fresh dry food source as you remove the old feeders and clean out the wet or spoiled seed. Having bird feeders that are ready to go can also cut down on how long you have to remain outdoors and face the bad weather yourself, especially if you use extra-large feeders with a higher seed capacity.
Create Sheltered Places
When you scatter seeds for ground-feeding birds, do so in a sheltered area. Remember, not all birds will use a bird feeder. There are some who are extra cautious and will hide in secure places. For these ground-feeding birds, try scattering seeds in your bushes, hedges, under the porch, or any secure place you can recall seeing these birds foraging for food. These places will also keep the seed nice and dry and safe from the elements, in milder weather.
In the winter, if a bird isn’t eating much, or the food they are eating isn’t very nutritious, then they will have a hard time regulating their body temperature. Putting out food that’s nutrient-dense and high in protein can help to fuel their body, giving them the nutrients they need to stay warm and the energy they need to fly. Choose fatty food sources that are high in protein, such as bacon, peanut butter, and scraps of meat. These are all great fatty food sources. You can also use a suet feeder. If you don’t have a suet feeder, try using a mesh onion bag and purchase suet or you can make your own by following my recipe here, in my guide to homemade bird food recipes.
If you want to use peanut butter instead of suet and offer it to birds, you can use a small old log. Take the log and drill several one-inch holes in the log and smear peanut butter into the holes. You can use a screw eye to suspend the feeder.
Have you ever tried feeding mealworms to birds? You can offer mealworms in a large, heavy dish. These larvae provide an excellent food source, are very nutritious and can be a great protein source for the bird who is struggling to regulate their body temperature. Mealworms can be given fresh or dried. Dried mealworms can be a better option in inclement weather since they will not crawl away. However, there are many species of birds that will turn their nose up at mealworms, if they’re not fresh.
Birdbath heaters will prevent birdbaths from freezing over, giving birds a reliable water source, but you should set up the birdbath carefully, in a way that will prevent birds from trying to bathe in it. Birds are very clean and will try to take a dip in the birdbath, even if it’s snowing out. This can be fatal, especially if it’s cold enough that the water will freeze on the bird’s wings. To prevent birds from bathing in the birdbath, try adding several rocks. This will prevent birds from taking a dip but allows them to drink the water. Once the weather becomes warmer, you can remove the rocks and allow birds to take a much-needed bath.
Make Your Birdhouse More Heat Efficient
Not all birds will use a birdhouse during the winter or for nesting purposes, but some will roost and can enjoy protection from the elements. These houses can also help birds survive if several birds roost in the house at the same time. If you want to make their roosting spot warmer and more comfortable, try adding some wood shavings and dried grass. Use approximately four inches of material and spread it over the bottom of the birdhouse.
Next, plug the ventilation holes in the birdhouse to block out wind, rain, sleet, and snow. These plugs can be removed in the spring. While good ventilation is a must during the summer months, in the winter, their presence will let in the elements.
Research Local Birds
Do you know what type of birds often frequent your backyard? It’s important to know what types of birds call your yard home since this can help you choose the right birdseed and shelter. Some birds will not shelter in a birdhouse and will choose hidden spots around your yard. If you find birds taking shelter in your shrubs, then you can take steps towards making this spot warmer and safer. Hang a tarp to help cut down on exposure to the elements and protect the space from strong winds. In terms of food, some birds are very picky eaters, so you’ll want to choose the best birdseed, one that can provide the nutrients each species needs.
Other Ways You Can Help
Keep your pets away from any food stations you have set up, whether it’s a bird feeder or a sheltered space on the ground. This will be especially important if you have cats, which will bide their time and wait to take down an unsuspecting bird when it’s eating.
These 8 ways to help birds in bad weather can keep your backyard birds alive until the springtime and can ensure they remain warm, fed, safe, and dry. These birds will come to depend on you when food is scarce, which is why it’s so important that you consistently feed them. A bird may wait hours to visit a feeder, only to find it empty. This can mean the bird will not eat for the day, so please be responsible and always check the seeds in your feeder to ensure they’re dry, not moldy or spoiled, and that there is enough seed in the feeders to feed birds for a few days before it must be refilled. Hanging birdhouses, using a birdbath heater to prevent the water from freezing, and the other tips in this guide will allow birds to tough it out until the springtime.