Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2007
Regional Report

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Wild birds depend on us to keep feeders full during the dark days of winter. (Photo by Gary Reeder)

Winter Rx for Feathered Friends

Although we are cozy and warm indoors, our fellow creatures outside are having a difficult time. Survival is what it's all about for wildlife during the winter months. It's easy and crucial for us to lend a hand.

Clean Water
Did you know that feathers only keep birds warm if they are clean? That's why it's so very important to keep a birdbath full of clean, fresh water during the winter months. Migratory and local birds need a reliable source of clean water to bathe in and drink.

Birdbaths don't have to be fancy, but keeping them off the ground and out of range of prowling felines is always a good idea. Ideally, the sides should be sloped so that feathered bathers can select a comfortable depth. Place a flat rock in the center of the birdbath so even the smallest titmouse can take advantage of your largess. Early-season butterflies may make use of the rock for sunning while sipping mineral-rich water.

Tasty Treats
Woodpeckers and nuthatches appreciate a suet block impregnated with seed. You can purchase suet feeders or make them yourself from hard fat from the butcher shop. You will be amazed at how quickly your gift will be consumed and delighted at the antics of the nimble little nuthatches. Suet feeders are usually encased in a loose metal cage to prevent rats and squirrels from stealing the grub right from under your nose.

Bird feeders should be kept full with a variety of seed. Sunflower seed contains a lot of oil and is a good choice for larger birds during winter months. A hanging bird feeder with several feeding stations is an invitation to chickadees, sparrows, and other birds that stay in the area over the winter. Don't be surprised if your feeder is visited by noisy scrub jays. They love a free meal, and whole, unroasted peanuts in the shell are their favorite food.

Doves, towhees, and California thrashers are ground feeders and feel very comfortable dining on the scattered remains left by other birds. You may even be lucky enough to spot the shy California quail dining on the ground. The problem with dropped seed is that it will eventually sprout, meaning you will have weeds to contend with. May I suggest hanging your birdfeeders over a concrete surface if possible.

Having a thistle sack will insure goldfinches and the colorful house finches will visit your garden. I love to watch them clinging to the fabric and working the small seed from the holes, greedy little things that they are.

And of course we can't forget the hummingbirds. Most migrate, but some lazy types, such as the colorful Annas hummingbird, will stay around for easy pickings. If you keep a hummingbird feeder, make sure it is clean! Hummers are susceptible to a fungus disease that attacks their delicate beaks and is spread by dirty feeders. No food coloring is necessary to attract hummers.

Remember, birds may live or die depending on the care you provide.The smaller the bird, the more it will depend on your feeder being clean and full all throughout the winter months. Keep feeders where they will remain dry, perhaps under an eve on a south-facing wall. Replace seed if it becomes wet, and pat yourself on the back for making life a little easier for our avian friends. They will repay you a thousand times over with all the insects they will eat from your garden.

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