Bird Feeding Basics - Part III Cold Weather Protection for Birds
Cold Weather Protection for Birds
Birds are especially vulnerable in colder temperatures.Food is scarce and they rely on us in part, for survival.The following is the third and final blog on the topic of providing for birds in winter months.It is in tended as a broad summary and there are additional links at the end.
There are several types of natural and man made winter shelters that bird lovers can provide to help them survive cold nights and storms.
Bird Shelter Types
The following are a few means of providing safe, attractive shelter for winter birds. The most popular winter techniques are:
- Roost Boxes: These boxes should not be confused with traditional bird houses.These boxes provide safe, shelter from predators but traditionally are not used for laying eggs and hatching young birds as birds do not do this during Winter months.Many bird species that use a bird house will also use a roost box in groups, allowing better protection from predators and warmth.This is especially important for smaller songbirds such as Titmouse and Chickadee.Larger birds will roost in smaller groups or alone.A bird house is a secondary alternative when a roosting box is not available.Roost boxes supplement the landscape techniques mentioned above.A bird house can be converted to a roosting box.Some commercially available houses are convertible but if not, they typically are easy to convert.
- Roost Pockets: Basket style roosting pockets are an inexpensive, cozy winter shelter for small birds. These pockets are typically made from woven natural material such as reed grass. Natural materials help keep birds safe from predators as they blend in with surrounding areas and do not attract unwanted attention.
- Brush Pile: A brush pile, as provided by a property owner is a fast way to provide winter shelter for a variety of birds. Large and small branches to form the “bones” of the pile and air spaces for roosting and insulation. Evergreen boughs offer extra shelter and protection.
- Evergreen Trees and shrubs provide yearlong, natural shelter while offering the added benefit of visual hiding places from predators and in many cases, natural food sources such as seeds, nuts or berries.
- Tall, native grasses and forbs are ideal for ground feeding birds and birds that typically take shelter in ditches and fence rows.This includes Pheasant, Quail, some Doves and others.Without this kind of shelter, some birds have a tendency to face toward winter winds.As winds become too much to bear, they eventually turn away, allowing winds to get under their feathers and on their skin.
There are a number of factors to consider in providing not only a bird friendly landscape but a landscape that also addresses other practical factors including:
Mature plant heights in relation to its context.A few height factor examples include, not placing a plant that obstructs a driver’s view at a road intersection, plants that shade out other plants needing sun or place plants too close to structures.
Growth rate/growth habit of the plant.Some shrubs form thickets, some have more showy characteristics, some shrubs and other plants will have a greater spread per plant, some are more upright.Land owners often do not plan ahead for this and plant too close to a structure or entry.Some plants grow faster than others.It is important to plan one growth rate and habit in relation to other plants around it.
General plant “offerings” for birds and aesthetics for humans.This includes berries or other fruit over winter, year round seasonal appeal in the form of bark or twig texture or color.Plants that hold their leaves or berries longer may be a Winter benefit to birds. Some landowners prefer year round appeal.There are those plants that offer a great fall color, flowers in the Spring that can be pollinated by birds or insects.
Anticipated maintenance levels.Generally speaking, selecting plant species that are native to your region will offer the best results.Most native grasses need watering primarily for establishment and little or no mowing.Some native landscapes require periodic burns, usually once every one to three years after establishment for optimum vitality.
Level of sun/shade.Some plants require differing levels and this may or may not relate to moisture needs.
Moisture requirements.There are plants such as Sedge Grasses and Coral Bells that can sustain periodic moisture inundation.Others
Soil.Some plants such as Rhododendrons, require a more acidic soil.Others can survive in a sandy soil.
Slope.There are plants that specialize in stabilizing slopes through deep root structures.
These are just a few factors to consider.With so many factors to balance with bird attractor and shelter factors, it is wise to hire a design professional even if you have an general idea as to what you are considering.
Ideally, the most bird-friendly backyard will provide a mixture of winter bird shelters.There are many possibilities to plan ahead to allow for birds in your landscape.
Location Considerations for Winter Shelter
Consider the following for locating the shelter types addressed herein:
- Position shelters facing to the south to take the most advantage of passive solar heating from the winter sun, and paint roost boxes dark colors to absorb the most heat.
- Be sure the entrance is facing away from prevailing winds.Prevailing wind direction varies by season and also by state.
- Position brush piles, roost boxes and winter bird houses in areas sheltered from the wind and the heaviest snowfalls.This may include a fence corner or under eaves.
Sources for this blog included: