Henrico County VA

In the garden

Winter: it’s for the birds
The celebrations and obligations of the holiday season added to an already busy life can make this time of the year hectic and stressful. A few moments each day watching birds at a backyard birdfeeder often provide an interesting and entertaining break that most people find they want to keep in their life long after the holidays have ended.

Now is an excellent time to start feeding the birds according to John Coe, Henrico Master Gardener and president of the Virginia Audubon Council. “We’re just now seeing an influx of the birds that winter here,” he said.

“I’ve had Eastern bluebirds, yellow-rumped warblers and cedar waxwings at my feeder already,” added Coe. He has also seen white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos.

In our area, unless we have very severe weather, birds can survive on their own, so people who begin feeding birds don’t have to worry about potentially harming them if they leave the feeder empty for a few days.

“I travel,” said Coe. “Only in extreme circumstances could you harm your birds by feeding them and suddenly cutting them off.”

Many different styles of feeders are available. Coe uses an open platform feeder, which looks much like a tray, as well as tube feeders and suet logs. And he makes sure some seed is also on the ground.

The type of feeder, like the type of seed you use, will determine what kind of birds visit your backyard.

“You find good quality and not-so-good quality seed mixtures available,” said Coe. “With bird seed, you really get what you pay for.”

Coe says that a mixture of black oil sunflower seeds, millet and fine ground cracked corn will attract many birds that winter in central Virginia such as cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, house finches, and titmice. He recommends buying the separate components and mixing them yourself for the best results.

“Water is very important, too” said Coe. “Many people forget all about providing water.”

Birds like shallow water, nothing “over their knees.” Water containers should only be 2-3” deep without a slippery surface. You’ll need to remember to change the water regularly to keep it clean. You can also add a small heater or just remove any ice that forms on cold days.

Place your feeder where birds can find shelter quickly. “Birds like to be able to hide,” said Coe. Shrubs, brush or even a slightly used Christmas tree can provide shelter.

When you put out your feeder, remember that it sometimes takes a while before the birds show up. If no birds arrive after 10 days, you’ll need to move your feeder or try waiting until bad weather.

“Once you’ve got them, they’ll stay as long as the food is there,” said Coe. “And birds are wonderful creatures to watch.”
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