Gardening Tip ~ Feed The Birds This Winter

2 min to read

Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society
Disclaimer: The article is based on my own experience combined with details on what my friends do to feed birds in their gardens, and the results from multiple google searches for additional ways to feed our feathered friends.

We love to see birds in our gardens.  Many of us are taken by the number of varieties that drop by each day. One friend saw an Oriole in her yard at her new house so rushed out and got all the correct foods for it and was rewarded with visits that season and every season since. Birds are also useful to us. They help with pest control as they eye, then eat insects such as aphids, caterpillars, and grubs. But in the winter, food can be scarce so if you feed the birds on a regular basis it will encourage them to keep coming back to your garden. 

How to attract birds to your winter gardens and yards?

First - Offer Them Fresh Water
Water is essential for both drinking and washing for birds. You can purchase a birdbath or use a dog bowl or anything else with the correct shape. You may need to put a brick or rock in the middle so the water bowl stays in place.  Every morning fill the bowl with fresh, warm water so that birds can bathe and preen their feathers (clean feathers provide better insulation from the cold). Keep the water topped up and clean out your birdbath once a week to avoid pests and summer mosquitoes.

Second – Feed Them Natural Foods
Many types of birds will appreciate the fruit from your trees such as apples, crab apples, and pears. Which is a also great way to use up blemished fruits. For the winter, you can dry them and chop them into pieces. In the summer and fall, you could simply hang them from a tree or chop them up and scatter them on the ground for ground-feeding birds.
Next fall, don’t clean up your ornamental garden borders or smaller plants. Leave them until early spring so they can provide shelter for insects, which allows the birds to hunt for those insects during the winter. Grow plants that birds love. They enjoy the winter berries from many shrubs such as holly, winterberry, and yew.  Birds also enjoy the seed heads of Purple Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susan, and Sunflowers.  Turning over your soil in winter, or just before the frost sets in, can help to expose slug eggs and overwintering grubs to make it easier for birds to find them.

Third – Make Them Birdseed Cakes or Suet
Bird cakes are very easy to make. Mix dried ingredients such as crushed, unsalted peanuts, sunflower seeds, grains, mealworms and dried fruit (ex. raisins) in a bowl. Mix in some melted animal fat or coconut oil (1 part fat to 2 parts seeds and the other food you’ve mixed in with them) then pour the mixture into a greased 8”x8” pan. Once set, you can cut this into 6 pieces so each can be easily put into a purchased wire bird feed holder.
Indeed, birds enjoy lots of food including unsalted peanuts, peanut butter, raisins, dried mealworms, and stale or hard mild cheeses, just as much as they like purchased birdseed mixtures.  Pinecones also make good bird feeders. Tie a string to the base of the pinecone then coat it with your birdseed mixture after letting it all but set.  Then tie that to a tree limb.
Or pour the bird food mixture into a flexible container to make a shaped birdseed cake. A small take-out coffee cup makes a nice shape for a birdseed cake. Be sure to put a string tied just inside the bottom of the cup, then through the cup’s bottom, tie it again, and then leave a foot or so of string to attach it to a tree branch or other hanger. After you fill it up and let it set, simply tear off the coffee cup and hang it.  Your used coffee cups are cheap to use and easily replaced if you happen to enjoy take-out from Tim Horton’s as much as I do. 

Fourth - Place the Food Where They Can Feel Safe
Hang feeders in a spot where birds will have a good view of their surroundings and thus avoid predators while eating. Only put out small amounts of food at a time and replenish often to ensure a continuous supply.

Suggested reading:
1. Homemade Birdseed Cakes. Bev provides an easy-to-follow recipe for birdseed cakes that can be put into purchased wire suet holders.  Click here to read. 
2. Suet Vs Seed Feeders.  This is a good article discussing the pros and cons of suet versus all seed bird cakes on Wild About Birds.  Click here to read