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© 2020 by Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship Society

Seven ways you can help birds this winter.

This time of year people are often focused on self-improvement. Your New Year's resolution might be to get more exercise or to eat fewer doughnuts. Here are some resolutions that are easy to maintain and help out the birds

1.  Put out a bird feeder.  

Different seeds attract different birds. Black oil sunflower, nyjer seed and suet cakes are popular choices. 

Place feeders less than 3 feet or more than 30 feet from windows to reduce bird collisions.  

Squirrel proof feeder designs are becoming more common. These feeders will close off access to the seed when an animal heavier than a bird is hanging from the feeder.  In areas with rodent problems, you may want to consider buying a waste saucer that hangs below the feeder and catches dropped seeds. These can be emptied nightly to remove the attractant for rodents.

If you live close to a forest or in an area frequented by bears, wait until bears are hibernating before you put out feeders in the fall and take feeders down in early spring.  

Any area where lots of animals are in contact is a place where disease can be spread. Make sure you clean your feeders regularly.

2.  Give birds a drink 

Only certain birds are attracted to bird feeders, but all birds need a drink. Providing water in your yard will bring in species that don’t come to feeders, like robins, spotted towhees and migrating warblers in the spring and fall.    

A bird bath doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive.  A large plant saucer or storage container lid can do the trick in a pinch. The best bird baths mimic natural puddles - shallow with sloping sides.  

Placing rocks or branches in the bird bath during winter allows birds to drink without getting their feet wet, which is important in winter months.  

Access to water can be difficult for birds in the winter when lakes, streams and puddles begin to freeze.  Bird baths can be kept from freezing with special heaters which are cheap to run but can be expensive to buy. The Okanagan is usually warm enough that if you put warm water into the bird bath in the morning it will stay free of ice until the following night. Some containers may break if water is allowed to freeze inside them.

3.  Put up a bird box 

Many different birds use holes in trees for nesting. Some birds, like woodpeckers, will make their own holes, but other birds need to find holes to nest in. These birds include song birds like chickadees, house wrens and bluebirds, but also larger birds like the Western Screech-owl.

Different sizes and locations of boxes will attract different species of birds.

Check out our website for plans for both Western Screech-owl boxes (right) and Johnson slot boxes. 

4.  Leave dead trees standing where it is safe to do so 

Dead trees often have holes where birds can nest. 

Even if a dead tree doesn’t have holes in it yet, it will often have insect colonies eating the dead wood. Those insects provide food for woodpeckers, and they provide cavities for all sorts of other birds.  

Dead trees can make great perches for large birds of prey. They are easy to land in without needing to maneuver around all those pesky leaves, and once a bird is perched there, it has a commanding view of any threats or possible prey around.  

5.  Don’t feed birds bread 

Although bread has lots of carbohydrates, it has little protein, vitamins, or minerals and makes birds feel full so they then don’t eat other healthier foods. Ducks and geese are the birds most commonly given bread, but it is still very unhealthy for other birds as well. If ducklings eat too much bread while they are young, they can develop ‘angel wings’, which is a deformity that leaves them unable to fly.  

Some municipalities ask that residents refrain from feeding ducks and geese as it can lead to larger-then-normal populations, and all that extra duck and goose poop can cause water quality problems.

If you still want to feed ducks and geese, and you are in a place where you are allowed to do so, feed things like peas, corn, oats, bird seed, or torn greens.  Other bird species appreciate these foods as well, with the exception of the peas and greens.

6.  Plan to create spaces for birds

It isn’t a good time of year for planting right now, but it is a great time to sit down and make a plan for the spring and fall.  

Creating an area with dense shrubs gives birds somewhere to hide – bonus points for using native species that bear fruit. Check out our pollinator planting guide for some ideas of what to plant:

Leaving a messy area with piles of branches, leaves and things that have gone to seed is great for birds. Birds will shelter in the branches, search through the leaves for insects, and eat the seeds. Make sure you don’t let invasive plants go to seed! 

7.  Keep birds safe from pets 

Cats are excellent hunters that are great at catching birds (although you wouldn’t know it from watching cat videos online). Cats are estimated to kill about 200 million birds in Canada every year. Many of those deaths are from feral cats and feral cat colonies, but most well fed cats will also catch birds for fun and extra food.  Keep cats indoors, try a building a “catio”, or test out a cat bib.  

Dogs aren’t generally thought of as being a problem for birds, but they can cause trouble for ground nesting birds during the spring and summer. Some dogs love to chase waterfowl and chasing resting birds in the winter can cause them to use up valuable energy and fat stores. Keep dogs on leashes or under close supervision.