Our mission: Replace lawns with gardens that nurture birds, pollinators and other wildlife. Save water for our region’s rivers and re-discover the joy of connecting with nature. Join Audubon Rockies, Plant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a habitat hero.
Winter is a Challenge for Birds
Birds face serious survival challenges in winter. Not only is food scarcer, it is often buried in snow or frozen. Harsh weather means birds need shelter from wind and freezing temperatures, and higher-calorie and higher-fat food, plus the same antioxidants that keep people healthy.
Putting out bird feeders in winter is one way to help the feathered inhabitants of your yard survive.
The Feeding Dilemma
Unfortunately, feeders can have serious downsides:
- Birds concentrate around feeders and thus can trade diseases (it’s like the kindergarten effect—kids all get the flu at the same time.)
- Feeders can become contaminated (empty and clean them weekly, rinsing the feeder out with a dilute bleach solution; clean up spilled seed to prevent mold).
- Conventionally grown birdseed contains pesticide residues.
- Seed mixes high in millet are “filler-food,” high in starch and low in the fats and antioxidants birds need to stay healthy through the winter.
- Suet from feedlot-raised animals contains antibiotics; when antibiotics alter gut flora and fauna, they also negatively impact the health of the host (whether bird or human).
Planting Food–and Shelter
Another way to feed birds in winter is to incorporate food-producing plants into your landscaping. You get the joy of feeding birds plus beautiful and interesting plants for your garden.
Some examples of winter food-producing plants appropriate to the Rocky Mountain region and the birds that use them:
- Maple trees, especially native boxelders and smaller ornamentals like Hot Wings® Tatarian maple that hold their seeds in fall and winter (Evening Grosbeaks and other seed-eaters)
- Berry-producing junipers, including tree-sized Rocky Mountain juniper and shrubby common juniper (American Robins, Mountain Bluebirds and Townsend’s Solitaires)
- Western mountain ash for the clusters of red berries high in anti-oxidants (Cedar and Bohemian waxwings, all species of grosbeaks, chickadees and Juncos)
- Redtwig or red osier dogwood for its fat-rich, white fruits—the scarlet branches are also spectacular for winter color (American Robins and Townsend’s Solitaires especially, but also finches and other birds)
- Western sand cherry for its small, dried cherry-like fruits (jays, chickadees and Juncos)
- Little bluestem, switchgrass, blue grama and other native bunch grasses (sparrows and other seed-eaters)
Habitat Hero Birdwatcher’s Garden
An easy way to plant for birds is to use a pre-planned garden. Our partner High Country Gardens has just released a Habitat Hero Birdwatcher’s Garden-in-a-Box. Renowned plantswoman and garden designer Lauren Springer Ogden chose each plant specifically to provide food and habitat for birds through the year, and year-round interest in the garden. In addition to brilliant colors, intriguing textures and nectar for summer, the garden includes berry-producing shrubs and seed-producing bunch grasses for winter food and shelter.
This garden collection is water wise, provides habitat for birds and pollinators, and it’s got great bones and gorgeous colors year-round. What an inspiration! (It’s also discounted right now.) See photos of the individual plants on our Pinterest board.
Bring New Life to Your Landscape
Winter is the time we gardeners plan and dream for the coming season. Take the time to integrate food plants for birds into your plans and bring new life to your landscape!