Winter is a great season to work on improving the bird-friendly features of a yard. Among the things birds enjoy are dense foliage where they can find cover, fresh water and bird seed. Kevin Lair, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Bend, explained that the majority of the area’s seed-eating birds are non-migratory, so they live in the area year-round and are easily attracted to a feeder full of seeds.
“It’s nice to have that activity of the birds around when otherwise it’s kind of dreary or bleak in the yard,” said Lair. Some of the birds Central Oregonians would be able to spot at a feeder include wren, house finch, mountain chickadee, pygmy nuthatch and the red- and white-breasted nuthatch.
The type of seed Lair recommends putting out is one that is already shelled or has a thin shell and that’s high in oil and fat.
In the winter, providing seeds with high oil content is great for providing lots of energy. Providing shelled seeds makes feeding easier for the small birds like finches. “We sell an in-house shelled seed and nut blend,” said Lair ($10.99 for a five-pound bag at Wild Birds Unlimited.)
Michael Ludeman, owner of Tumalo Garden Market, also recommends a blend of raw shelled seeds so there’s no mess left behind. He sells a blend by Wild Delight called Deck, Porch n’ Patio, which contains small grains, peanuts and sunflowers seeds ($19 for a 10-gallon container at Tumalo Garden Market). “I also put suet cakes out in the winter and spring,” said Ludeman. The insect-eating birds go crazy for suet, which is made of rendered beef fat with nuts and seeds. Lair recommends this as well since insects are harder to find during the winter. Birds that like suet include the northern flicker, a type of woodpecker, mountain chickadee, bushtit and hairy woodpecker. (Suet cakes are sold for $2-$4 at Wild Birds Unlimited).
Lair recommends placing feeders wherever they can best be seen from a window. “I always encourage people to place the feeders where they can see them so they can have enjoyment,” said Lair. Ideally the feeder will be positioned within 15 feet of a shrub or thicket of some kind. “Birds like to scope (everything) out, and they like a safe place to retreat to,” said Lair.
This is especially important to consider if there is a cat living nearby. “The way (cats) like to hunt is to hide and then pounce. … Also we don’t recommend using millet because the songbirds will kick it out trying to find the sunflower seeds and then some of the other types of birds will come and eat it off the ground where they’re more susceptible to cats,” said Lair. Types of birds that like millet include mourning doves and California quail.
In a sparse yard that doesn’t have a lot of natural cover, a bird fence can be built to provide the type of cover birds like. Ludeman builds bird fences for customers and has one in place outside his store in Tumalo. To build it, Ludeman first placed fence posts in the ground and then wove branches in between. “It’s made up of willow, dogwood, birch, sticks and branches. (The birds) like cover and to be able to sit together to protect them from hawks and observe. It’s a gathering place for the birds,” said Ludeman. Starting price for installation of a bird fence is about $200.
In particular, winter is a great time to provide fresh, clean water in a birdbath. “They need shallow, liquid water, which is harder to come by in the winter because most of what’s out there is fast moving. So finding that liquid water can be hard,” explained Lair. Because birds secrete oil through their skin, baths are essential for keeping their feathers clean and more effective at insulating. “I see more activity at my birdbaths in the winter than I do any other time of the year,” said Lair.
Birdbaths and feeders need to be kept clean. “They’re not interested in slimy water,” said Ludeman. “It’s good to maintain them when there’s a lot of snow or it gets cold.” Birdbaths sold at Tumalo Garden Market are priced around $179.
Lair recommends using a dilute bleach solution to scrub the birdbath and feeder at least once a season or more if a sick bird is spotted. A sick bird “won’t fly away the way you expect they would. They might seem lethargic and have its feathers puffed out. You might approach it and it doesn’t fly away,” said Lair. “If birds are ill, often they’re not as easily able to forage so sometimes supplemental food can help to sustain them and fight it off. So if you have a clean food source, it can be a benefit.”
Add clean water to a birdbath on a regular basis, scrubbing out the basin in between fillings. To keep water from freezing, install a heating element into the bath. Multiple options of birdbath heating elements are available including electrical units that sit in the bottom of the bath (sold for $28 and up at Wild Birds Unlimited) and birdbaths with a built-in heating element (sold for $85 and up at Wild Birds Unlimited).
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