Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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Take down your birdhouses

Your feathered friends have special cold weather needs like us so there are opportunities for us to take part in assisting our aerial neighbours
Tags: Birds, Winter, Home
By Kelly Gadzala
If you see a lone bird sitting on a branch out your window one cold winter’s day, the scene may not be as idyllic as you think.

That little birdie could be in need of the things we all need in the winter: shelter, water and food.

Paul Oliver, owner of the Urban Nature Store in Toronto, says there are many ways to care for those fine-feathered friends who may flock your way in the frigid winter months.


Put away the birdhouses for the winter, Oliver suggests. What birds need in the winter is shelter.

“It’s pretty lonely and scary for the little guy to be out there on his own during the winter,” he says.

You can buy a wicker nesting basket for a single bird to climb into during snow or ice storms, or you can convert and existing birdhouse into a roosting nest by putting some long grass inside.

Oliver sometimes encourages people to plant evergreens if they want to keep winter birds as birds will hang out in there for protection too.


People tend to put away their bird baths thinking birds don’t need water in the winter, he says, but water is crucial for birds especially when the snow arrives.

It’s harder for birds to find water at that time of year, but they need it to drink to digest their food, as well as to bathe in as the water generates oils in their feathers that insulates them from the cold, he says.

He advises buying a heated bird bath or installing a heater in an existing bird bath.


Mid-October is the time to start putting out winter food in feeders for the birds that stay for the winter, Oliver says, as the birds will get used to it and keep coming back throughout the winter.

And put out lots: about 20-30 percent of a bird’s food comes from feeders, and that number only goes up in the winter.
“Once you get the snow on the ground it’s a lot harder for the little guys.”

Opt for heartier, richer mixes that contain peanuts and sunflower seeds, or any seed or nut with a lot of oil content.
“It helps them with those long winter nights.”

Stay away from grains and corn.

Certain birds prefer specific nuts. For example, woodpeckers love suet, while blue-jays have a thing for peanuts in shells.


For those just starting out, Oliver recommends using a general feeder that will attract all kinds of birds. Then if you want to attract specific birds — or if you notice that all kinds are flocking to your feeder and the little birds are being muscled out — you can get specialty feeders for specific birds.

Clinger feeders, long thin tube-like structures, are good for small birds like finches, chickadees and so on because their perches are too small for the big guys, he says.

“They’re like kiddy tables.”

Blue Jays can be quite aggressive and often require a separate feeder, he says.

One question Oliver says he gets a lot: how to attract cardinals, which people tend to love as they are pretty, brightly coloured birds that normally travel in a pair.

Because they are forward feeding birds that can’t easily turn their necks, they don’t have same dexterity as other birds and many perches on feeders just don’t work for them, he says. You can buy a special cardinal feeder or a feeder like the Squirrel Buster Plus, onto which you can affix a cardinal ring that cardinals can sit on and easily access the food in front of them.

As for the type of feeder, wood is okay but doesn’t wear as well. Oliver suggests going with a recycled plastic one; there are many on the market that are durable and can be cleaned easily with soap and water or a special enzyme spray.

And if you’re in an apartment, consider a window feeder. They’re great for children, older people, or people with cats, he says.

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