Watching the snow come down, I started thinking about Spring and remembering that we used to say the first sign of Spring was the return of the robins. However, robins haven’t flown South for the winter for at least five years.
I have never had bird feeders although I know that I would attract more species of birds if I did. I prefer to provide habitat for them instead.
Yesterday, I looked out my front window and saw a flock of fat robins sitting in my crabapple, pecking away at the dried fruits. A few days previously, I saw sparrows eating the
still red fruits of Ilex verticillata (Winterberry), a tall naturalizing shrub that even likes damp soil.
Birds also love the berries of Pyracantha (Firethorn) and Crataegus (Hawthorn).
Most perennials can be left standing during the winter, acting as sculptures when snow-covered. Some have attractive pods and other have seeds that many birds find particularly tasty. Some of the best seedheads for birds are those of Echinacea (Cone Flower), Agastache (Hyssop), Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), and ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus (Maiden Grass), Pennisetum (Fountain Grass), and Panicum (Switch Grass). The stems of perennials and grasses also offer a place for some birds to hide during the winter
Food is good but providing shelter for overwintering birds can help them survive even the coldest nights or most vicious storms. The best shelter is provided by evergreen conifers like Chamaecyparis (False Cypress), Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir), Picea (Spruce), Pinus (Pine), and Tsuga (Hemlock). These trees and shrubs have dense foliage that provides shade as well as a natural food source for seeds, nuts or berries.
Lastly, if possible, provide clean, fresh, unfrozen water in bird baths, shallow containers on the ground, or small backyard ponds.
Make your landscape a habitat for the birds.