Many of us enjoy feeding birds throughout the year. In the winter garden they provide a flurry of activity when there is not much else to see. In the Ability Garden we have been making pinecone birdfeeders with our school groups. It is a simple activity that promotes concentration and fine motor skills. Gather some large pinecones, cover the open bracts of the cones with a thin layer of peanut butter, roll the covered cone in bird seed, tie a length of twine or yarn to the tip of the cone, hang and watch the birds come in for a quick snack. I hung two of these outside my office window and within an hour chickadees were landing on the surrounding bushes to grab a few seeds.
As with most things we do in life, feeding birds has pluses and minuses. Backyard birdfeeders provide needed food for wildlife, but they can changethe birds’ natural behaviors. There is also a risk of creating conditions ripe for the spread of diseases by having many birds congregate in the same small space. Rodents can be attracted to the mess the birds leave behind. With forethought and regular maintenance you can create a safe feeding station. Situate your feeders where the birds will have shelter from plants nearby, on the edge of bushes or under trees. Consider using several different types of feeders, which will appeal to different species of birds. Make sure to checkfeeders frequently and if needed clean them, a good rule of thumb is to clean feeders every two weeks, hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every three to five days. Rake or sweep up uneaten seed from under the feeders on a regular basis.
Another great option is to incorporate feeding winter birds into your landscape plan. Add plants that will provide winter food and shelter while beautifying your yard. Just a few plants can have a huge impact on the bird population. Part of landscaping for animals involves adjusting our own expectations. Leave brown seed heads on the plants and allows leaf litter to collect in some places in your yard, providing resources for the birds. As we continue to clear open land for more homes, it is vitally important we use the yards we have to provide habitats for displaced wildlife.
For more great tips, check out New Hanover County’s “Nature at Home Program,” https://newhanover.ces.ncsu.edu/horticulture-4/. With a little bit of focused effort, you can create a welcoming, safe place for the birds and a perfect way for you to engage with nature in the colder months.
The Ability Garden uses nature to enhance lives. Support the third Saturday plant sales at the New Hanover County Arboretum, 6206 Oleander Dr. Shopping with us increases our capacity to bring people and plants together. Reach Heather Kelejian, the New Hanover County Extension Therapeutic Horticulture Agent at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-798-7660.