Winter is for the Birds

Leave those seed heads on your flowers and enjoy watching the birds of the winter season feast.

  • Photo by Rachel Paul

  • Photo by John Westbrook

It's nice to appreciate the crisp autumn weather and the peaceful winter wonderland from the comforts of our warm homes. As we gaze out the windows from our toasty living rooms and watch the birds and other wildlife searching for food in the cold, how many of us wish we could do more for our feathered friends, and observe nature in action at the same time? Provide winter food for the birds in your garden by doing absolutely nothing. You read that right… do nothing!

Whether those birds in your garden are year-round residents, winter guests, or just passing through, all types of birds will enjoy a nutritious feast in your garden just from all the various seeds to be found. Don’t cut off those dried flower stalks and stems. All you have to do is leave the seed heads on your plants, allowing them to dry and mature, and nature will do the rest. Mature seed heads of many of the summer- and fall-blooming plants will provide a natural food source for many types of birds throughout the winter months. Many songbirds eat insects during summer, but come winter, many change their diet to seeds, berries, and other vegetable matter.

It is as easy as it sounds. The small seed-eating birds, like chickadees and goldfinches, feed straight from the plant, choosing the ones that are easy for them to perch upon. Finches are fond of the seeds from composites (the daisy-like flowers) of every variety, from asters, coreopsis, and sunflowers.

The larger songbirds, like cardinals, sparrows, and towhees, prefer to feed on the ground. They scratch and peck around under the flowers that have burst their seed pods and have fallen to the ground. Some of their favorites include coreopsis, evening primroses, grasses, mallows, and the sages.

Another nice bonus about leaving dried seed heads on your plants, is they add architectural features to a winter garden that otherwise may lack any sort of interest. The dark stems of black-eyed Susans, seen from a far, standing out of a deciduous garden; the assorted sizes and shapes of the sunflower heads; and the fluffy heads of Joe-pye weed add an element of texture and height to the winter yard. But, if leaving these dead-looking stems poking out of the ground here and there is a little too unsightly for you, just cut the stems as if you were cutting a bouquet of fresh flowers, but leave the stems a little longer. Tie the dried bouquet together and hang it on an arbor, fence, post or tree limb. The birds will find it and hang onto the stems and enjoy the bounty from there. You can make as many as you’d like, positioning them near windows so the feasting will be easily viewable from indoors.

Seed-Bearing Flowers

There are many species of birds that feed on seeds, and without birdseed available, they are perfectly happy to find any and all wild seeds from flowers, shrubs, trees, and vines. Adding seed-bearing flowers to a garden can attract many bird species such as chickadees, doves, finches, quail, sparrows, and towhees. Small, agile birds that can perch on flowers feed directly from the blooms; the larger ground-feeding birds benefit from the flowers as well after the seeds have matured and fallen on the ground.



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