By Lori Athey, Habitat Outreach Coordinator
What are birds eating right now in your backyard habitat? If you have trees or shrubs in your yard that hold fruit all winter, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds, and even European Starlings are probably enjoying whatever fruits that are remaining.
If you haven’t yet cut back your asters, coreopsis, and coneflowers, seed-eating birds will be pecking at the old flowerheads and on the ground beneath for fallen seeds. When there is extended snow-cover, it is especially important for birds to be able to access seeds on old flower-heads above the snow, since they can’t get to the ones on the ground. American Goldfinches are famous for this type of behavior, but others that can be found doing this in the yard include Dark-eyed Juncos, Field Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows and Pine Siskins.
How do you provide food for birds that do not eat seeds or fruits? Lately, I have seen birds digging through the fallen leaves in my landscape beds. Did you know that leaf litter is full of insects, spiders, and other goodies that your birds can eat in winter? In addition, toads, fireflys, some butterflies, and other beneficial insects winter in those leaves. Often, flocks of American Robin, Common Grackle, Northern Flicker, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee and other sparrow species can be seen digging through leaf-litter for protein-packed overwintering insects and spiders.
So next year, rake those fallen leaves into your landscaped beds for the wildlife. Forget about shredding them –that kills beneficial insects and takes away that nice warm blanket that toads and others crave for their winter rest. Delay cutting back your seed bearing perennials until spring. And yes, add more fruiting shrubs and seeding wildflowers to your landscape next year for the birds too –you can get them all at the Delaware Nature Society Native Plant Sale, May 1-4.
Some plants to consider for providing late-winter bird food:
Chokeberry (Aronia species)
American Holly (Ilex opaca)
Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)
Bayberry (Morella species) – Yellow-rumped Warblers love it!
Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana)
Pines (Pine species) – (Red-breasted Nuthatches seek out pine nuts)
Cone flowers & Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia species)
Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea NOT doubles)
Tickseed & Coreopsis (Coreopsis species)