I recently discussed what happens to birds when the weather turns bitterly cold.
To summarize: Birds do just fine. They have defense mechanisms and strategies in place for survival. Plus, they are built to withstand the low temperatures, otherwise they would have learned generations ago to fly south when the weather gets cold.
But what happens when there is a lot of snow? Much of New England got hammered with double-digit inch counts of snow recently. How do the birds fare in those conditions?
Again, the short answer is they are fine. If snow were a major problem for birds they wouldn’t be in New England in the winter.
Snow, however, can be a challenge for birds. Food sources are covered and when we get a large quantity of snow they can be covered for a long time. So birds do a few things to adapt. One, they look for other food sources that aren’t covered by snow, such as berries or weeds with seeds at the top of long stalks.
One of the other things they do is turn to feeders. This is where you can help our feathered friends. This is particularly true of ground-feeding birds such as doves, juncos and sparrows. For the most part, their food sources are buried under the snow. If you put out feeders and sprinkle some seed on the ground underneath the feeders, you will not only attract those birds for your own enjoyment, but you’re also helping them during a difficult time.
If I put out only black-oil sunflower seeds, all the birds will eat black-oil sunflower seeds. That is the only such seed that attracts all of my regular backyard visitors. As a general rule, use a variety of seeds to attract a variety of birds.
My birds all have their favorites. Blue jays will practically eat peanuts out of my hand. I put out some peanuts and all the blue jays in the neighborhood are instantly in my yard. Downy woodpeckers love suet. Goldfinches prefer Nyjer seed. Red-bellied woodpeckers like peanuts, too, but really go crazy for the tiny suet balls. Chickadees, titmice and white-breasted nuthatches seem to prefer the sunflower seeds.
Using a variety of seed can attract some surprise winter visitors. Pine siskins, redpolls and grosbeaks show up in New England backyards in large numbers some winters.
Birds can sense poor weather coming and will pack on extra weight ahead of storms. Be sure your feeders are full the days before a pending snowstorm.
A heated birdbath is another way to help birds during cold, snowy weather.
When they aren’t eating, birds survive snowy days and nights by hunkering down. Many birds will find a safe spot in an evergreen bush or brush pile. Others will find a hole in a tree or a birdhouse.
The brush pile I created because I was too lazy to properly dispose of the branches ... I mean, the brush pile I created for the sole reason of helping wildlife is a popular spot for juncos and sparrows. I also have five birdhouses scattered around the property. I’ve never seen birds going in and out of them during the winter, but I’d like to think they are helpful for birds seeking shelter during a snowy night.
I often praise our year-round birds as being true New Englanders. They are with us during the 100-degree days and they’re with us during the 0-degree days. They adapt, evolve and survive.