Winter Birds- What the birds want you to know

January 31, 2017

The life of a bird in the winter is more stressful than many people think – days are often windy and cold; nights are long and even colder. The berry-laden vegetation of summer and fall has withered or been consumed, and most insects have died or become dormant. Finding food can be especially challenging for birds during days with extreme cold temperatures.  Our local song birds are now much more dependent on supplemental food sources.

As warm-blooded creatures, birds must maintain their body temperature regardless of the temperature changes around them.   Birds that usually eat insects now seek berries to supplement their diets. Birds are in constant search of reliable sources of food to support their wintertime survival.  Everyone is hungry in the winter.

Foods high in fat and protein are essential to the health of our birds during the coming months.  A few sources of foods that can provide these are Black Oil Sunflower, tree nuts and suet based products.  Our song birds eagerly accept these foods, they are like magnets to the feeders.

While food is important, fresh water for drinking and bathing is essential to good health. When the ground is frozen our song birds can frequently be found at the edge of the roadways drinking the melt water from the roadways. This water is polluted with petroleum products and the chemicals used to melt the ice from the roadways.  On cold, wintry days, birds fluff up their feathers, creating air pockets, which help keep the birds warm. The more air spaces, the better the insulation. In order to maintain the insulation properties of their feathers birds must clean their feathers in water or if not available in snow.  A heated birdbath provides a source to address both of these needs.  Bluebirds are especially attracted to open water during the cold season.

Beyond food and water your birds need a place to get out of the weather.  Shelter is limited in many backyards, but can be augmented with plantings of evergreens, holly or dense vine structures.  If there are limited natural shelter areas, man-made houses, roosting boxes or shelters can provide refuge from the winds, rains, ice or snow of winter.  Wild Birds Unlimited of St. Mary’s County is great resource for helping you help the birds through the winter.