As bitter winter winds blow through the leafless trees and forest birds search for the shelter of an evergreen, we can offer them some help by repurposing our leftover holiday greenery.
With the loss of woodlands, backyard habitats have become increasingly important for birds that stay with us through the winter months. Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology just published a friendly reminder that we can extend the usefulness of our holiday trees, wreaths and other greenery by putting them near feeders and in yards, among other things, to offer birds thermal refuge, instead of just tossing them to the curb.
Arranging evergreen branches near feeders and birdbaths can protect birds from wind and storms and provide hours of bird watching entertainment from the comfort of our homes. They can also be turned into birdhouses, which small birds will use in the winter if they’re left up year round. However, if that kind of project isn’t in the cards for you, simply creating a pile of brush outside with leftover trees will also help provide shelter and create a refuge and hiding place for birds and other wildlife.
Roosting in dense conifers in the cold of winter provides body heat for birds and can save them 1.3 hours of feeding the next day, according to the lab.
Our gardening habits can also help birds through winter. Some types of trees, including spruce and juniper, can be bought as plantable Christmas trees that you can add to your yard, or give away to other people or businesses if you don’t have room for one. When spring returns and the garden brings us outside, bird-friendly trees — including spruce, fir, cedar, yew, pine or shrubs – can be planted to help them through winter and to serve as cover from predators. Varieties including holly, crabapple and sumac, among others, offer berries and nuts that will continue to feed birds all winter when other food is scarce.
Nature has a plan to take care of wildlife though the cold of winter and being mindful of plants we see as weeds during the year, such as Joe pye and golden rod, can also help birds survive. According to the lab:
Many people think of these as weeds, but during winter their seed heads stick up above the snow to provide an important natural food source. Goldenrod stems also house many gallfly larvae that spend the winter inside the plant’s stems. These larvae are a rare source of insect protein in winter for birds such as chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers that can peck into the galls.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, a growing number of communities are also offering recycling programs that make mulch available for use in your garden, which will support insects that ground-feeding birds eat. Information should be available through your local public works department or city hall.
If you fill feeders for the birds, choose oily seeds like sunflower seeds, or leave suet or peanut butter mixed with cornmeal, which will supplement birds with the energy they need to survive the cold.
If you hang wreaths in a high traffic area around your home, or on doors that are used regularly, don’t leave them up for too long in those places because they also make a great nesting spot for small birds in the spring.
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