By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Now that gardening has come to a halt, it’s time to think about feeding the birds.

Birds are messy eaters. They chuck the seed hulls all over the place. They are really picky and often will pull what seems to be a perfectly good seed out of the feeder and throw it on the ground. Then they poop on it. For an easy way to clean up the mess, lay a piece of landscape cloth under your feeder. Anchor it with stones or bricks. When it gets covered with all the discards and poop, just roll it up and dump it in the compost pile or in a plastic bag and put the bag in the garbage. You need to clean the area regularly as birds aren’t very bright and though they can be fussy about what kind of seeds they eat; they are quite willing to pick through other bird’s dropping to get at a seed. Unfortunately, this leads to sick and dying birds. They really are bird brains.

Most of the desirable birds love black sunflower seed. Some of the finches prefer nyger seed or a finch food mix. They will not eat all the seeds in a mix, but it is cheaper than nyger seed. Nyger is often called thistle seed but is from a tropical flower and, while it may sprout it will not live through our winters.

Suet is an important winter food for all the bug eaters. Hunks of raw suet from the butcher shop works fine, but the commercial suet blocks are easier and less messy to use. Our native woodpeckers, the Downy, Hairy, red breasted and Pileated will flock to the suet feeder. Chickadees seem to love it too. However, if you have cedar siding as Bunkey does, the Downies will also take a whack at that.

While most birds will eat from a tube feeder, there are some that will only eat from a flat surface like the ground or a tray feeder. Sprinkle feed on the deck railing or hang a tray feeder from a tree for them.

Another way to attract birds is with water. A bird bath heater is quite inexpensive, or get one with the heater built in. Bunkey takes his heated bird bath in at night when the temps fall below minus 20. Why heat the water when the birds are sleeping? You could attract wild life you would rather not have.

I f you are handy with a hammer and saw, build a winter perching house. This looks like bird house for storks. Its longer than a regular bird house with the hole at the bottom. Inside are multiple perches. Apparently, when the birds find it, a mix of birds will spend the night in it. The more birds the warmer all of them will be. That’s why the hole is at the bottom.  There is a pattern for this and other bird houses at the Extension office or check with the library.

The nice thing about feeding birds is they will reward you with a flying circus all year and by eating bugs and caterpillars all summer.

You can plant tulips as long as you can dig a hole for them to go into. It is too late to plant any of the other bulbs.  You will see why if you accidentally dig up a daffodil or hyacinth. They are already sprouting roots. Just re-plant them.  

Pile the leaves on the flowerbeds now to prevent frost heaves during warm winter days. Roots belong in the soil, not exposed to the air.  That is almost certain death to your plant.