Backyard Birding: How to Attract Winter Birds
Birds decorate our landscape not just with their attractive patterns and colors, but also with their graceful movements and cheerful chirps. In Allentown, we can especially appreciate their beauty and charm during the winter when our yards are otherwise a little lackluster. If you're interested in winter backyard birding, here are some common birds you can expect to see, and how to attract them to your yard:
TYPES OF WINTER BIRDS IN PENNSYLVANIA
There are dozens of birds that prefer the cold temperatures of Pennsylvania rather than vacationing further south. Here are some of the most common winged visitors you can expect to see in your yard this winter in Allentown.
American Goldfinch: These small finches are abundant in the winter, where they have much less competition at birdfeeders. While they're gorgeously golden during the summer, they turn a dull brown to blend into the landscape better during the cold season.
Black-Capped Chickadee: With their oversized round heads and distinct black and white markings, chickadees are one of the cutest creatures in the garden—and don't they know it! These white-cheeked chicks are super curious, so they don't mind visiting your landscape to feed on suet and sunflower seeds, and will nest right in your alders and birch trees.
Blue Jay: One of the most recognizable birds across North America, blue jays have attractive blue, black, and white markings that make them fit right into winter landscapes. Along with their icy aesthetic, they also have a very distinct, noisy call. They prefer to relax on sturdier feeders on posts rather than hanging feeders and like to eat suet and sunflower seeds.
Dark-Eyed Junco: Dark-eyed juncos are chubby little grey-black birds with bright white undersides. Juncos hide further north during the summer, but are abundant across the eastern United States during the snowy season, which has earned them the nickname "snowbirds." They love to flit around the ground, so low-lying feeders are ideal for attracting them.
Downy Woodpeckers: These tiny woodpeckers are common in Pennsylvania all year long, but are more likely to visit your birdfeeder for suet mixes during the winter months. They have an attractive black and white pattern, and males have a distinct red patch on their heads. Regardless of their appearance, you can definitely identify woodpeckers by their noisy tree-drumming.
Northern Cardinal: You can't walk into a gift shop at this time of year that doesn't have at least one piece of cardinal-related decor. That's because the breathtaking contrast of their bold red color against the winter snow makes them one of the most picturesque birds of the season. They love mixed seeds and fruit, but they're most drawn to black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds.
HOW TO ATTRACT WINTER BIRDS
Just because there are many winter birds common to our state, doesn't mean you'll see them flitting around your backyard all season long. Food, water, and shelter are scarce when the branches are bare and the landscape is covered in snow. If your yard doesn't offer any of these necessities, they have no reason to stay. Luckily, turning your backyard into a winter paradise is pretty simple.
Provide Shelter with a Birdhouse
While birds nest in trees, hanging baskets, and even tall grass during the better part of the year, good shelter is a little harder to come by during the cold months. If you're lucky enough to have some evergreen trees on your property, you might find them nestled in there. You can also provide shelter by installing birdhouses around your yard. You'll want to make sure birdhouses are pretty well-enclosed, with holes no bigger than about 1¼ inch—any larger and it might become a home for house sparrows, which are a pesky, invasive species. As much as you may want to use this as an opportunity to decorate, it's best to stick to simple, wooden structures in natural colors. Anything colorful and flashy will deter birds from nesting there.
Remember to clean out your birdhouses each year after the mating season has ended and baby birdies have flown the coop—usually anytime after August. While wearing protective gloves, clean out the old nesting material and clean the birdhouse with a bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). While they don't lay eggs over the winter, the birdhouse will provide necessary shelter during very cold or stormy weather.
Provide a Food Source
A bird's diet is largely made of insects, seeds, plant material, berries, nectar, and pollen. Naturally, in the winter, food is a little harder to come by when plants are dormant, flowers are long gone, and insects are nowhere to be found. Seed heads and winter berries barely get the local birds through the season, so when they come across a full birdfeeder, it's equivalent to stumbling upon a buffet in the middle of a barren desert!
Backyard birdfeeders are a sure way to keep your feathered friends coming back to your yard all season long. At Lehigh Valley, we carry an assortment of different birdfeeders, including house feeders, tube feeders, and suet feeders. Since feeder preference depends on the species, we recommend setting out a few different kinds to attract a wider variety of birds to your yard.
If you want to attract a particular species, do a quick Google search to see what their dietary preferences are. In general, any mixture of seeds, nuts, and fruit won't go astray. Many bird-friendly folks will also set out suet cakes. Suet, or beef fat, has a high fat and calorie content that provides winter birds with much-needed energy while food is scarce.
Just make sure to keep an eye on your feeders and refill them often, especially after cold snaps or storms that leave them extra hungry!
Provide a Water Source
With the below-freezing temperatures that we experience here in Allentown, most natural water sources turn to ice for months at a time. While birds can eat snow as a source of water, their little bodies have to use a lot of energy to turn that snow into liquid and also stay warm. By providing a clean water source, such as a heated birdbath, you'll have them flocking to your yard to take a dip and a sip.
The most important thing is making sure your water source doesn't freeze over like everything else. Heated birdbaths have become more and more popular lately as they keep the water temperature just above freezing through the coldest months. If your birdbath doesn't have a heating option, or you're using a less conventional item for a water source, like a bucket or a barrel, you can also use water wigglers that disturb the water, preventing it from freezing over.
As one of the most graceful creatures on our planet, most of us are keen to attract more birds to your yard. By providing natural resources that are limited during the winter, your backyard becomes a much more inviting space for all wildlife—and you get to enjoy their peaceful company from the privacy of your deck. Stop by Lehigh Valley for all of your birding needs—we're an enthusiastic backyard birding company, and we'd love to banter about birds with you!