“November comes and November goes
With the last red berries and the first white snows,
With night coming early and dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket and frost by the gate.
The fires burn and the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.”
In the Midwest November means dwindling daylight and the prospect of winter’s repose. Now, while we rake leaves, prune bushes and remove tree branches, we can think about caring for our year-round feathered friends. Creating a backyard bird sanctuary is a great activity for kids, friends and family. It will provide food and shelter for birds during winter months and preserve your ability to bird watch from the porch, balcony or nearest window.
A winter bird sanctuary doesn’t cost a lot and creating it might even be fun. It is important to provide extra care for birds during winter when sources of food and shelter become scarce. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Select your location – According to a University of Wisconsin Extension article, “trees and shrubs are the backbone of a bird sanctuary. They provide layers of foliage, flowers, fruits, seeds and cover.” So, before you bag those pruned pine tree branches for waste pick up, consider leaving them in your yard for extra shelter. Allowing plants to seed and die naturally may also provide a food source and a more natural habitat for protection and spring bird nesting.
Feeders – Placing a bird feeder near a window can provide hours of optimum watching. The Yankee Flipper is a tube feeder with four seed ports to hold up to five pounds of bulk bird seed. It is designed to tip squirrels away from the feed perch and from getting at the seed. There are other types of feeders such as mesh peanut bird feeders, hopper feeders (that look like bird houses) or a platform feeder such as PRD’s Seed Saver.
Suet is an important part of an avian diet and attracts wild birds in winter such woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, finches, jays and Cardinals. Suet is rendered animal or vegetable fat mixed with other ingredients such as millet, pellets, corn, fruit, peppers and dehydrated insects. This rich concentrate provides more calories to feed the high metabolism of birds. Prepackaged suet cakes can be ordered in bulk and come in a variety of flavors such as berry, nutty butter, high energy or woodpecker blend. They are easy to hang on a birdfeeder or branch and stay solid in the cold climate.
Water source – Even when temperatures plummet turning water into ice, it is still important to think about providing a water source for wild birds during winter. The birdbath in your garden can be converted into a hydration station by purchasing a small heating unit. The BirdWatcher’s Digest offers tips to build your own birdbath heater for under $40. For a minimal amount of electricity you can provide a maximum amount of comfort to year-round resident birds.
Get creative – Before snow falls, early November is a good time to collect pinecones for small, individualized homemade feeders to adorn a tree branch. Prepare your pinecone bird feeder by wrapping string, yarn or twine around a tip of the pinecone. Now slather with peanut butter and roll it around in any kind of birdseed such as No Mess Mix or Black Max. Let the seed set for a couple of hours and then hang outside. Soon the birds will start munching!
Be crafty – Occupy the kids with indoor projects for your outdoor bird sanctuary. Building small birdhouses is fairly easy or decorating a birdhouse from a kit will provide hours of fun. You might even get kids interested in birding as a hobby and the American Birding Association offers scholarships to camps and events for young birders. A brightly painted birdhouse is a colorful reminder of how you are helping wild birds through the winter and providing a nesting place for spring.
Start a holiday tradition – As you think about the holidays ahead, here is a recipe you can make for our feathered friends. Items you will need are a Mason jar lid or metal cookie cutouts, a package of plain gelatin, string, twine or ribbon, and bird food. Place the cookie cutout or Mason jar lid on wax paper. Heat ¼ cup of water and mix in the gelatin when boiling. Thoroughly stir and pour in ¾ cup of your favorite wild bird food and spoon into cutout but only half way. Tuck the piece of string, twine or ribbon across the length of the cutout then evenly fill in remaining mixture. Allow birdseed cutout cookies to cool on wax paper overnight. Carefully remove them from the cutouts and hang outside. See how long it takes before hungry birds find your creation.
About.com Birding/Wild birds
Pretty Prudent Bird Cookie Cutter Feeder
Photo credit: http://birding.about.com/od/birdhouses/a/Winter-Bird-Shelters.htm