Backyard Winter Bird Haven

Backyard Winter Bird Haven


Like many homeowners, I enjoy attracting birds to my garden all year ‘round. But, for sure, here in WinterPeg (Winnipeg), it's during the winter that birds need our help the most since they spend nearly all of their time and energy then seeking food, shelter and water.


Winter is a desperate time for birds. So, with some planning, your yard can become a prime spot for birds to fuel up and take refuge during those long, cold months. The key is to select a mix of plantings, shrubs and trees that offer birds the protection and food they need to survive.


Not only will you enjoy seeing and hearing birds all year long but the plantings you choose will also bring colourful fruits, stems and leaves to your winter landscape, too.



Think in Layers  

Different types of birds prefer to seek shelter and food at different heights, so think of your yard or garden in terms of these naturally occurring layers: a canopy of tall trees, an under-canopy of smaller trees, a shrub layer, and vines or ground cover. The greater the mix of vegetation you can provide at various heights, the greater the variety of birds you're likely to attract.


Aim for a tiered effect, with larger trees at the border, followed by smaller trees and clumps of bushes, then tall grasses and low flowers.



From Seeds to Nuts

During the winter, birds are on a constant hunt for food. Make your yard a convenient place for them to feed by adding trees that produce seeds and nuts.


Evergreens, especially conifers-from pines (Pinus) and junipers (Juniperus) to spruces (Picea) are a must in any bird-friendly landscape. The seeds from pine cones are a valuable source of winter food for many types of birds, including chickadees, pine siskins, grosbeaks, and woodpeckers. Plus, these hardy trees do double duty, by sheltering birds during winter storms. Conifer needles are great at shedding snow and acting as windbreaks. Deciduous trees, which shed their leaves, may not offer much protection from the elements, but varieties such as oaks (Quercus), flowering crabapples (Malus) and Mountain ash (Sorbus) provide nuts/fruits that are an excellent source of fuel for birds. Even shrubs such as Chokeberry (Aronia), hardy roses (Rosa), and dogwoods (Cornus) offer a colourful standout in any winter garden with their bright red canes.



Go Wild with Native Grasses 

Native grasses emerge later in the season, and their flowers' seeds make a wonderful wintertime food source for birds. Karl Foerster Grass (Calamagrostis) leads the way. To ensure your grasses are truly bird-friendly, don't cut them back in the fall; instead, leave them up for the winter, and cut them back in early spring. That way, you'll be providing both welcome coverage and food.


Will that create a less-than-manicured look in your winter garden? Yes, nature isn't always neat.

A bonus for homeowners: by fall and early winter, the grasses' green leaves can turn tan, red or purple, depending on the species. Also, consider switch grass (Panicum) and hair grass (Deschampsia), as well as a shorter ornamental grass called Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium coparium), and its taller cousin, Big Bluestem (Andropogron gerardii).



Perennial Power

Like native grasses, perennial flowers produce seeds that provide nutrients for birds late in the season. Just as with the grasses, it's important to keep your wildflowers long all winter; don't clip their seed heads back until the spring. Perennial seeds are wildly popular with birds, so try to plant sizeable groupings of flowers, to ensure there will be enough seeds to go around.


Among the many varieties of perennials that help to winter birds, coneflowers (Echinacea), Blazing Star (Liatris), a late bloomer that often has purple spikey flowers, and native perennial Sunflowers (Helianthus), which also come in much smaller varieties than the familiar annual sunflower.


Two popular perennial options for sunny spots are low-maintenance, long-booming Coreopsis, sometimes known as Tickseed, and Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), with their yellow petals and deep brown center cone.


For shaded areas, try Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum), which has tubular white flowers.



Keep Water Accessible

Don't put your birdbath away for the winter, or let it freeze over. Instead, invest in a portable warming device and de-icer for your birdbath, to prevent freezing. Another option: heated birdbaths, which are available in both pedestal and deck-mounted designs. Be sure to change the water daily.


Keep feeders full when winter is toughest. Birdfeeders are most attractive to birds in winter…..


In Winnipeg, last January & February (2019), we experienced some of the fiercest winds, deep snow and a polar vortex (-40C) to top it all off. I did notice that birds took refuge in my evergreens, and the 12 feeders were in steady use throughout those blistering 8 weeks. I didn’t travel, but as a reminder, if you are feeding birds and will be away a week or longer, make certain someone is tasked with filling your feeders. What will happen to those cute little chickadees when they fly in for black-oil sunflower seed but find nary a crumb?


Wild birds are resourceful, gleaning most of their food from nature. But birds that have become used to supplemental feeding may suffer when that food supply is suddenly missing, especially in winter.


Happy Gardening!
For more ideas ask your local garden center professionals and make sure you follow us on FacebookTwitter,YouTubeInstagram and Pinterest for other tips and hints.




Guest post by Jan - Bylands Account Representative

I’m very proud of my 4 children.  All 4 of them, worked many summers in the garden centre, they love plants and gardening too – but opted for totally different careers.  Jan loves living in Winnipeg and adds extensive plant knowledge to our team at Bylands.  You can sometimes find Jan as a guest on ‘The Gardener’, a radio program in Winnipeg on Sundays.