Written on November 8, 2013 and revised on Novenber 19,2021
You worked all summer to create your bird garden, and you have surely had the chance to see various birds flying around your home. But as the cold weather approaches, do birds need help getting through the winter? The answer is no, but we can take certain small steps that will help us enjoy their presence more.
A helping hand
While the plants in your garden may offer shelter and a source of food for birds, they will probably not be sufficient to feed them throughout the winter. If you live in the countryside, you can put suet cages and feeders full of high-calorie seed mixes in your garden to help them gain the strength and weight they need to brave extreme temperatures. You will find ready-made seed mixes and vegetable-based fat cakes in most pet stores. Or better yet, you can make them yourself using the many recipes available on specialized websites. However, this approach is not recommended in cities such as Greater Montreal, because you risk attracting animals that will scare the birds off or non-native species.
A tip that works wherever you live
Take a log with a minimum diameter of 10 cm and drill a few holes—approximately 3–4 cm in diameter—on one side. Next, drill a small hole at either end of the log to screw in metal rings, then connect them by attaching a string or metal chain. Fill the holes with suet, then hang the log horizontally, with the holes facing downwards.
Why facing downwards?
Simply because starlings will have difficulty hanging onto the log to get the suet out. Meanwhile, it will be child’s play to native species such as woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and treecreepers. Check your feeders often to make sure your feathered visitors always have something to eat and clean them regularly to prevent bacteria from taking hold.
A source of liquid water
Like most animals, birds need to drink water frequently, and accessibility to water in liquid form can be tricky during periods of extreme cold. They may have to resort to eating snow to hydrate themselves, but melting it wastes a lot of their energy. Making sure that liquid water is accessible in winter is therefore another way of inviting birds to frequent your yard. But how ?
- Heated birdbath systems can be found in stores and also on specialized websites such as lenaturaliste.ca. These will keep the water temperature above the freezing point. But this is a product that should be used cautiously, because birds are tempted to actually bathe in it. Unable to dry off thoroughly, some will suffer from hypothermia – so avoid using in extremely cold temperatures.
- Lukewarm water can also be made available in a drinking trough for birds equipped with perches. But it’s important to bring the trough indoors before the water freezes in order to avoid damaging the container.
- If you’re handy you can build a drinking fountain. A reservoir equipped with a water heater mounted on a temperature regulator can feed a small pump that generates a jet of water close to a perch. Since there’s no tray for the birds to bathe in, the system is completely safe and provides them with a good supply of water.
With any of these methods, you will help birds get through the winter more easily and be in better shape in the spring!
This article was written in cooperation with Stéphan Deschênes, scientific interpreter at the Biodôme.