GARDENING: Take care of our friends this winter
Human friends are important, especially during this pandemic winter. But I am not focused on them in this piece.
We often ignore the struggle of wildlife as they try to survive against the harsh elements of the season. Some animals hide themselves away while others tough it out. For example, non-migratory birds such as Anna’s hummingbirds and house sparrows are seed eaters that remain active against all odds.
For any bird, summer provides an abundant choice of food like berries, seeds and insects. But as the cold weather sets in, these guaranteed sources of food disappear. This is when we can lend them a hand to help preserve their healthy fats and increase their chances of survival. Humans can provide the extra boost of nutrition and calories to reduce their stress and give them energy ahead of the breeding months.
Feed them calories
For a novice birder, kitchen scraps are a great way to start feeding our pollinator friends. Take a large enough tray and lay out the cuisine from the scullery where it can be seen clearly. Food should be soft, beak-sized pieces such as leftover cooked rice or pasta, vegetable and fruit snips, stale bread, cookies and nuts. Clean up after the birds go through it to avoid attracting rodents.
Rather than the feeder, pay more attention to the feed that goes in, as inexpensive birdseed mixes carry fillers which are not popular with the customers, causing birds to quickly toss it to the ground to spout weeds. Even if it is a little pricier, seed mixes with the “no waste” label are better, since they do not have fillers and tend to include seeds that have already been hulled.
Squirrel-proof feeders do exactly as implied: protect food so that it reaches the target audience only. Bears are heavy and destruction-prone creatures that can also get into bird feeders, but less so during the winter months.
Also, make an effort to keep bird feeders clean. Dirty feeders invite diseases that can be very harmful to birds, and spread to an entire neighborhood flock. Empty feeders that have not been filled in a long time discourage birds from coming back for a meal.
Give them a drink
Humans like a drink with their food, and so do birds. Along with birdfeeders, birdbaths are just as important in the winter for birds to drink, bath and preen. A challenge with birdbaths is to ensure the water stays in a readily drinkable form, rather than turn into blocks of ice. Fortunately, technology has given us ample solutions to make our duty easier: heated birdbaths with thermostats or external heating elements for temperature control. Drinking icy cold water will lower a bird’s body temperature and require more energy for them to keep warm. If the water is too cold, they avoid drinking it altogether.
Delicate, decorative bird baths are no good for the winter as they tend to break with sudden weather fluctuations. An alternative would be any bright-colored plastic birdbath with no more than an inch depth for the water. Throw in a few large pebbles to create some interest in the water and before long, you may have a pool party on your hands. Last but not the least, birdbaths should be routinely cleaned to repel mosquitoes and diseases commonly found in stagnant water.
The songs of birds feeding and enjoying your spread will brighten the dreariness of our pandemic winter. While we are all stuck at home, these birds make pleasant company. If you have never taken up birdwatching as a hobby, now could be a great time to start.