Friday, October 26th, 2018

Outdoor Living: Backyard Birding in Fall and Winter

While many people put out seed and fill bird baths in the spring and summer, caring for birds tends to be largely forgotten when the leaves turn and the snow flies – a shame, because at this time of year it is actually more important than ever to look out for the birds. The tough birds that stick around for our cold and snowy months have many ways of coping, like growing extra feathers or huddling together for warmth.

Here are some ways to support and encourage bird activity in your backyard over the fall and winter:

Food

As you can imagine, finding adequate food sources is a lot trickier for birds over winter than during the summer, so keeping your feeders full is a big help. Some birds actually store food for the winter, while others adapt by changing from a diet of insects to one of seeds, nuts, and berries.

In order to attract the widest variety of birds, place several feeders with different types of seed around your yard. A mixture containing a good percentage of sunflower or safflower seeds (or both!) is a good place to start.

Birds need grit – small, hard objects such as small pebbles, eggshells, and coarse sand – in order to digest their food, and in winter, snow tends to cover natural sources of grit, making it harder to find. You can help out by ensuring that the seed mixture you provide includes this, or by adding an extra-fine grit to your seed mix in the winter.

Birds that winter in Manitoba include:

  • grouse
  • hawks
  • owls
  • pigeon
  • woodpeckers
  • crows
  • jays
  • chickadees
  • nuthatches
  • waxwings
  • shrikes
  • sparrows
  • finches

In addition to stocking feeders, you can also help out by planting shrubs and trees that provide berries for birds during their migration in fall, as well as for those who stay throughout the winter.

Trees and shrubs for fall and winter berries:  

  • chokecherry
  • snowberry
  • mountain ash
  • hawthorne
  • juniper
  • cedar

Shelter

Whether natural or artificial, providing areas of shelter and protection will entice birds to turn your yard into their winter home. Including evergreen trees and shrubs in your landscaping will provide great year-round shelter. If your yard allows, leave a dead tree standing to attract woodpeckers and owls over the winter, or pile deadfall together with some brush to provide another place for birds to hide.

Birdhouses can be used over the winter as well. Mount birdhouses on a tree if possible, facing the entry away from the most bitter winds – in Manitoba, it’s best to face the entry toward the south or southwest. Make sure there is a clear flight path to the entry. As part of your fall yard work, clean out old nesting material and plug ventilation holes to insulate the house over winter.

Water

Outdoor water fixtures normally get shut down for the winter, but a dripping water source is still the number one way to attract birds, even during the coldest months. Pick up a birdbath water heater to keep your birdbath free of ice.

Find more tips for fall and winter yard prep on our blog like planting fall bulbs and fall pruning 101, and be sure to check out our printable fall gardening checklist.

Be a friend to birds this winter!

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