How to Make Birds Feel at Home Around Your Place

By Melissa Stefanec

Pileated woodpecker.
Pileated woodpecker.

When the cold sets in, some animals hibernate. Others migrate to warmer locations.

Instead of leaving their homes or entering stasis, many birds in New York state stay put and active throughout the coldest times of year.

These birds can offer us some much needed vibrance and stimulation during the long, cold winters of CNY.

If you’re interested in attracting and admiring birds this winter, here are some helpful tips regarding food, feeder placement and safety.

Humans can unintentionally harm birds by creating scenarios for them to crash into glass, be preyed on by predators or feeding them unsafe foods, so learning the basics will help you turn your yard into a true bird haven.

55 PLUS magazine  compiled information from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Audubon New York; and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you create a safe and healthy environment for our feathered friends, you can truly enjoy the beauty and the peace they offer.

Birds that spend winter with us

Birds that don’t migrate during the colder months are called over-wintering birds. In New York, we have many over-wintering songbirds.

When you are winter birdwatching, here are some of the species you may encounter: the Northern cardinal, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, American tree sparrow, dark-eyed junco, downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, blue jay, oriole, and various nuthatches, finches, grosbeaks, wrens, pigeons and doves.

How to attract birds to your yard without food

Although a birdfeeder is likely the first thing that comes to mind when trying to attract birds to a yard, there are many things you can do to make your yard more appealing to birds.

You can plant certain plants that will attract birds, even during the winter months. Planting native trees and shrubs is ideal (for the birds and the environment at large). Fruit and berry trees, as well as shrubs such as dogwoods, hollies, chokeberries, elderberries and cherries, can provide birds with the winter forage they crave.

If you have any nest boxes, you should clear them of any sticks or debris. You can also maintain a pile of leaves in your yard. Leaf piles serve as compost. These piles attract insects that birds love to eat. Brush piles can perform similar functions and give birds a place to roost or hide.

If you like a more decorative approach, heated bird baths are a bird favorite. It can be difficult for birds to find unfrozen water in the winter. A heated birdbath provides them with life-preserving water.

• Feeder basics: keep it clean and location, location, location

Dark-eyed junco.
Dark-eyed junco.

Feeding birds is a sure-fire way to lure birds to your yard (and have them stick around long enough for you to observe them). There are some best practices for feeder placement that will keep your bird curiosity sated and birds safe.

Many birds die after colliding with windows or glass doors. However, perhaps counterintuitively, you should keep feeders close to windows. Birds are more likely to notice the window if the feeder is close to it. Also, they will not be flying at top speed as they fly away from the feeder, so a collision is less likely to be lethal.

If you can’t place your feeders right next to your windows, place them close to structures (such as fences or tree lines) but not directly next to them. You want at least a 10-foot buffer. This allows birds to see predators while using the feeder and gives the birds time to flee.

You also want to keep your birdfeeder and bird feed clean and free of pests. Make sure your feed is free of insects and rodent droppings. Regularly clean the feeder and areas around the feeder where seed debris collects. Decomposing hulls can harbor bacteria or mold that can harm birds.

• Certain types of food attract specific types of birds

When you shop for bird food, there are a lot of options. That’s because different birds have different diets and favorite foods. Here are some over-wintering birds’ favorite foods:

Woodpeckers, wrens, and chickadees: suet and peanut butter
• Nyjer or thistle: goldfinches
• Millet (placed on the ground): doves and pheasants

Cracked corn (placed on the ground): doves, pheasants, quail and turkeys

• The “Wonder Food”

Black-capped chickadee.
Black-capped chickadee.

Many ornithologists (bird experts) recommend one, simple bird feed to attract the largest variety of birds: black oil sunflower seeds. These seeds have a high meat-to-shell ratio. They are high in fat and therefore a favorite food for birds trying to survive the winter. These seeds are relatively small and have thin shells. These characteristics make it easier for birds, large and small, to handle and crack the seeds.

Perhaps, best of all, the seeds are relatively inexpensive. If you can spend a little more on seeds and don’t like the mess, hulled sunflower seeds leave less mess under the feeder.

• All set to gaze

These tips can help you enjoy birds in your own backyard. Taking precautions to safely attract birds will make sure you can take joy in them for months to come.

Photo: Northern cardinal.