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The Wings of Winter - Helping Wild Birds Survive

Updated on September 20, 2018
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Since the mid-1980s Yvonne has maintained a registered NWF backyard wildlife habitat where a variety of birds, insects and frogs abound.

In late winter a male cardinal perches in a wild blueberry bush. In spring the bush will provide food for all.
In late winter a male cardinal perches in a wild blueberry bush. In spring the bush will provide food for all. | Source

Ideas to Help Winter Birds Survive and Thrive

The winter season is hard on wildlife, but most of all the birds. Some bird species migrate to warmer climates, but many do not. There is quite an assortment of beautiful birds that are permanent residents of, or that migrate to Louisiana to spend the winter. This lens is about our favorite winter birds and the things that we do to help insure their survival in cold weather.

How we take care of our winter birds helps many birders up north because many of these birds migrate north in spring to nest and to be enjoyed by birders in the northern states.

We have included two excellent videos which have wonderful shots of feeding birds in winter and give a wealth of useful information as well.

Crumbs on the Snow

When it's winter and the snow

Like a tablecloth is spread,

I remember hungry birds

And see that they are fed.

On their snowy tablecloth

They find my gift of bread.Lucretia Penny

Birding in Winter

One of our favorite forms of entertainment during the winter is bird-watching and because we also feed the birds and plant winter food plants all around our property, we hardly have to leave our own home to see a variety of interesting and beautiful birds. Because most of the trees and shrubs have lost their leaves during the winter, the birds are so much easier to see and enjoy. All you need is a good pair of binoculars and you can enjoy the fantastic show outside from the comfort of your own home.

Of course, since we are outdoor people, we (and our 2 dogs) walk to the river each day to fill up the many bird feeders that we have all over our 9 acres. We always bring binoculars or a camera because there is usually something interesting to see.

Each December, we participate in the Christmas Bird Count. This is a day in which birders from all over the country locate as many bird species as possible and count the number of individuals for the Audubon Society. On the 2008 Christmas Bird count we observed and counted 36 species, but did not see several birds that we knew lived here. Here is the list of the verified sightings on that day:

Here is our CBC list:
2 Red-shouldered Hawk
6 Mourning Dove
8 Red-bellied Woodpecker
3 Downy Woodpecker
6 Blue Jay
3 American Crow
9 Carolina Chickadee
7 Tufted Titmouse
4 Brown-headed Nuthatch
7 Carolina Wren
9 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
2 Eastern Bluebird
19 American Robin
1 Northern Mockingbird
2 Brown Thrasher
6 Cedar Waxwing
9 Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler
7 Pine Warbler
4 Eastern Towhee
5 Chipping Sparrow
9 White-throated Sparrow
11 Northern Cardinal
24 Red-winged Blackbird
8 Common Grackle
29 American Goldfinch
2 Wood Ducks
1 Cattle Egret
1 Great White Egret
7 Pine Siskin
2 Catbird
2 Eastern Phoebee
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
3 White eyed Vireos
4 Black Vulture
3 Pileated Woodpecker
1 Brown Creeper

Male Cardinal in Holly

Source

Northern Cardinals

Cardinals are permanent residents and are one of our most beautiful winter birds. The male's bright red color and the female's soft brown with touches of red always brighten up a winter day. Cardinals are seed eaters and visit our black oil sunflower seed feeders often. Visit The Cardinal's Nest to learn more about this beautiful bird.

Female Cardinal

A female cardinal braves the winter wind.
A female cardinal braves the winter wind. | Source

Carolina Chickadee

A young chickadee just after visiting the suet feeder.
A young chickadee just after visiting the suet feeder. | Source

Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice

During winter small flocks of Carolina Chickadees, Titmice and Downy Woodpeckers travel through the forests and visit feeders, searching for food. It is during the winter that the immature birds in the flock develop pair bonds in preparation for mating in spring. These small flocks love black oil sunflower seed and suet. They also eat many wild seed and berries.


Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse eating sunflower seeds on a log feeder.
Tufted Titmouse eating sunflower seeds on a log feeder. | Source

Woodpeckers

In our habitat, here in Louisiana, there are many species of woodpeckers, including: (from largest to smallest) Pileated, Northern Flicker, Red-bellied, Red-headed, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a winter visitor that pecks sap wells in trees which in turn attract and trap insects. The Red-headed Woodpecker is seen mainly in spring and summer. All the others are year round residents that eat sunflower seeds, suet and the insects from rotting wood.

Winter Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpeckers are year-round permanent residents.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are year-round permanent residents. | Source

Red Headed Woodpecker

This red headed was pecking out a nesting cavity on this dead pine.
This red headed was pecking out a nesting cavity on this dead pine.

Downy Woodpeckers

Female Downy
Female Downy | Source
Male Downy (see red spot on back of head).
Male Downy (see red spot on back of head). | Source

Nuthatches

Our resident Southeastern U.S. nuthatch is the little Brown-headed Nuthatch. It is similar to the Pygmy Nuthatch of the west. These acrobatic little birds need pine forests to survive because pine nuts are their primary food. They will also eat black oil sunflower seeds and suet, so providing a bird feeder will aid in their survival.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown headed nuthatches live in the pine forests of the Southeastern U.S.
Brown headed nuthatches live in the pine forests of the Southeastern U.S. | Source

Occasionally in winter, Red-breasted Nuthatches will make their way down this far south. During the winter of 2007-08 several spent the entire winter here. These amusing little birds with their honking call are a delight to watch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatches are amusing little birds.
Red-breasted nuthatches are amusing little birds. | Source

Goldfinches

Goldfinches flock to thistle and sunflower seed feeders.
Goldfinches flock to thistle and sunflower seed feeders.

Each year flocks of American Goldfinches in their winter plumage come from the north to visit our sunflower and Thistle seed feeders. Occasionally pine siskins are mixed into the flocks. It's best not to fill up the Thistle feeders until the birds arrive, because the seed must be fresh or they won't eat it. By spring, some of the males are beginning to show the beautiful bright yellow breeding plumage like the one below. Before Hurricane Katrina, we used to host flocks of 200 or more Goldfinches in our habitat, but now we are lucky to have 25 to 30 at one time.

Droll Yankees Domed Cage Sunflower Seed Bird Feeder, 4 Feeding Ports, 15-Inch, Green
Droll Yankees Domed Cage Sunflower Seed Bird Feeder, 4 Feeding Ports, 15-Inch, Green
Droll Yankees tubular feeder with cage and protective dome keeps larger, problem birds and squirrels out, but lets the little birds in. The extended top makes refilling easy and a spring clamp keeps the protective dome in place and removes for easy cleaning. The sheltering dome protects against weather and the strong chew-proof stainless steel wire cage keeps out bothersome squirrels.
 

Ruby-crowned Kinglets

Source

Ruby-crowned (and sometimes Golden Crowned) Kinglets spend the winter with us. They are tiny, active little greenish gray birds with a white eye ring and yellow-orange feet. The males have a red "crown" that stays hidden under a tuft of feathers except when they are agitated or excited. They love suet and they will pick at the seed on our log feeders, but are probably looking for insects. They will also visit the hummingbird feeders that we leave up year round. Most of the time Kinglets are in perpetual motion as they work each branch, looking under every leaf for tiny insect food.

Pine Warblers

Pine Warblers are permanent residents in our habitat. They spend most of their time high in the mature pine trees throughout our property. But in winter, they come down out of the tree tops to visit the suet and seed feeders. Pine Warblers are the only seed eating Warbler and they make their home in the Pine trees on our property. The males are quite attractive with their bright golden yellow breast and the females, though less showy are also quite lovely.

Pine Warbler on Seed Feeder

Source

Carolina Wrens

Carolina Wrens, with their many vocalizations, are evident during every season. They mate for life and usually are seen in pairs, even in winter. They absolutely love suet and will monopolize any suet feeder. They also eat tons of insects, so they are beloved by gardeners. Don't leave your Christmas Wreath up too long, because as soon as the weather warms up, these birds are looking for placed to build their nests.

Carolina Wren

Source

Eastern Bluebirds

The lovely Eastern Bluebirds spend the winter in groups going through the woods and forest, eating winter berries. Bluebirds also like suet, but we have never seen them eating any from our feeders. Water is an important feature for Bluebirds, so an unfrozen feeder or pond will be appreciated by them. Many times we have seen pairs checking out nest boxes in December and January. They also use nest boxes as shelters in which to roost during the really cold nights of winter.

Eastern Bluebird Male

Source

Southern Magnolia Cone

The seeds of the Southern Magnolia are eaten by many species of birds.
The seeds of the Southern Magnolia are eaten by many species of birds. | Source

Food Plants

Plants that provide winter native nuts, berries and fruit are important to all wildlife. Certain groups of plants such as Hollies, Oaks, Hackberry, Beech, Pine, Magnolia, etc. are vital to many birds' survival. For more information about winter food plants, consult Planting for Birds and Wildlife .


 

Suplemental Food and Water

Many types of supplemental food can be provided. We use Black-oil Sunflower Seeds, cracked corn, Thistle seed and homemade Suet. We also leave our hummingbird (sugar water) feeders up all year long. Here in South Louisiana, we often have western species of Hummingbirds such as Rufous, Calliope and Buff-bellied spend the winter in our habitat.

The narration on the two videos below provides excellent information and the photography is beautiful.

How to Attract Birds to Your Yard in Winter: Part One

Sharing Seeds

A red-bellied woodpecker and a female cardinal share sunflower seeds on a log feeder.
A red-bellied woodpecker and a female cardinal share sunflower seeds on a log feeder. | Source

Most years, for Christmas, we string popcorn and cranberries and put peanut butter suet on pinecones and in orange rinds and decorate a small tree for the birds. We call it our Singing Christmas Tree.

Christmas Decorations for the Birds

How to Attract Winter Birds: Part Two

Drinking Water is a Necessity

Water is vital for winter survival. If you live in areas where it freezes for long periods of time, you may want to invest in a heater for the bird bath. We only have a few freezes each year, so we just pour boiling water in our bird bath near the house. Of course, we also have a large pond and a river which have never frozen, so water is always available.

Male Cardinal at Bird Bath

Fresh water is important all year long.
Fresh water is important all year long. | Source

Voices of Owls

Winter is the best time to go owling because the leaves have fallen from the trees which makes it easier to spot the birds. Recognizing the various calls will also help you identify the different owls which inhabit the woodlands in your area.

© 2008 Yvonne L B

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