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Garden prep for birds in the winter

Some bird species migrate seasonally and some stay local all year. It is important to provide habitat all year for birds that forage on the ground, ones that rummage a little higher up in shrubs, and ones that scour the tree tops. Growing plants that provide different canopy levels, are evergreen, and provide winter food is a long-term solution that will greatly benefit wild birds.

Take a look at the garden this fall and see where any gaps in the canopy appear, and fill them with the plants that will grow to the desired height. Although the plants will take a couple of years to mature, even a little coverage can help.

Some plants provide winter food. Kinnikinnick or Red Bearberry is an evergreen ground cover that provides bright red berries in fall and into winter. Virginia Creeper is a vine that provides nutritious black berries in fall that persist into winter and can provide year-round nesting coverage. Cotoneaster is a shrub that has colorful red winter berries that birds love and Spruce shrubs and trees produce seed-bearing cones that are available in the winter for foraging.

Nesting balls consist of putting nesting-safe materials in a recycled vegetable mesh bag, a small wire cage, or tied together with a grapevine or other natural cord. Dried grass, twigs, moss, different leaves, shredded paper, cotton, wool, yarn, and feathers make great fillers that give many different birds many different options.

Supplementing food will also attract birds in the winter. Multiple feeders at varying heights with different types of seed blends will benefit both permanent resident birds and migratory birds without changing their migratory habits. Wild bird suet can be used to feed wild birds in the winter. It can be purchased or made to provide valuable fat to replace the energy they expend trying to stay warm in the winter. The site has a comprehensive list of ingredients and a great instructional video. Peanut butter is another optimal choice but can cost more over the course of the entire winter.

There is no guarantee that there will be clean water for birds to drink even in the winter, especially in drought years. Providing water year-round is just as important as providing food and shelter. Cleaning the water source regularly and providing it at different levels will help

many more birds.

With a little planning and a little effort, creating a bird-friendly winter garden can attract and aid wild birds bringing enjoyment to the garden and making it come alive, even in the dead of winter.

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