It seems most gardeners have a love of birds as well as plants. Birds add beauty wherever they go. They bring animation to our landscape. They are part of nature and are just fun to watch. Oklahoma winters can be hard on birds. While they welcome the bird feeders we put out, their needs go much deeper.
They need shelter and unfrozen water. Your landscape can be an important key to their survival. This is not to say that birds are totally dependent on the bird lovers. Wild birds have many different ways to stay warm and conserve energy in winter. Some species grow additional feathers during winter. Some are able to slow down their heart rate and therefore they burn fewer calories. Cold weather increases a bird’s caloric requirements at a time when food is most scarce. Many birds flock together and find hollows to roost in and share their warmth. Birds need water every day. They can get some from snow or food such as insects and wild fruits. All birds need water, food, and shelter. When gardeners help supply these essentials their survival chances go up. How can we help?
Birds will appreciate open, available water, especially when ponds and streams are frozen. There are birdbaths with heating elements built into the bowl. There are heating elements you can put in your existing birdbath. If you have water features that can be left running, this will be a help to the birds. Water will not freeze as fast and perhaps not at all if it is running. Water features with deeper reservoirs are best for this. If there is not much danger from cats, you can use a ground level birdbath. Birdbaths should not be located under feeders. Seeds and droppings soil the water quickly. It would be good to have the water source close to branches. This way a wet bird can flutter up to the safety of the branches. If using a heating element, it should be close to the electrical source. The water source needs to be placed away from potential places where cats can hide.
We can help by providing feeders with suet, nyjer thistle seed, and black oil sunflower seed. Flowers that you plant for summer and fall beauty, may also maintain their seed heads. Not cutting back these spent flowers, and leaving the seed head in place provides food for the birds. Keep perennial grasses, coneflowers, and rudbeckias intact until spring.
Our landscape provides shelter by having vines and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous, where birds can go for shelter. These untrimmed plants provide protection from both the cold and predators. In addition, nesting boxes can be left up all winter. It is suggested that birds prefer boxes mounted 10 feet high or more in winter. The reason is perhaps that they feel safer up high. You may get plans to build a roost box on the internet.
Wintering birds have shown that they do quite well in surviving the coldest months. Our help makes their life easier and gives them a better chance of survival.