Plan now for healthy bird habitat year-round
Winter is the perfect time for homeowners to make landscape changes to protect birds in cold weather and to provide year-round habitat.
“Here at my feeders, I’ve seen a Cooper’s hawk every winter,” said horticulturalist Mark Viette. But he takes intentional steps to ensure the hawks are safe from predators.
“Last night my barn cat was hiding under a shrub waiting for birds to come,” he said. To protect birds from predators, homeowners should shear bushes near bird feeders to eliminate hiding places. “At the same time, your birds can see if there are hawks or other dangers,” Viette said during an In the Garden segment on Virginia Farm Bureau’s Real Virginia television program.
He recommended tying up any shrubs that may provide cover for ground predators, as well as trimming plants to provide at least three feet of clear space around bird feeders. Some wildlife experts recommend feeders be as far as 15 feet from shrubbery.
Landscape plants that provide quality habitat for birds include evergreens like hollies, Viette said. Other suitable bird habitat plants include tall grasses and hydrangeas. Homeowners can provide cover for birds in the winter even if they don’t have these plants.
“If you have a garden, and you don’t have any evergreens, you can take your trimmings from the garden—your limbs, your stems, your branches—and make piles of them in the garden. Probably about two- to three-feet high,” he said. “That’s a great place for birds to hide from predators.”
Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture specialists recommended using native plants in gardens whenever possible.
In an article on the Extension website titled, “Backyard Wildlife Habitats,” the horticulturalists said native plants are adapted to local weather and soil conditions, they better resist local insects and diseases, and they provide foods that are familiar and timed to the life cycles of the animals in the region. Using native plants also reduces the potential for introducing invasive plants that can cause serious problems to existing native populations.
Extension specialists also shared that bird feeders should not be placed close to large windows because of the risk of birds flying into them.
Other bird-friendly tips from Viette included providing fresh water for birds year-round. And Extension specialists said feeders and waterers should be regularly cleaned. At least once a week, remove waste under feeders, and provide multiple feeders spaced apart rather than clustered together to reduce competition for food.