Enjoy Birds in Your Garden All Winter Long

By Leah Lancione

Like every other state, Maryland has birds that migrate to warmer locales for Winter, as well as many that remain and tough out the cold, snow and ice storms. According to The Backyard Bird Lovers Ultimate How-To Guide, ice storms are the most dangerous for our fine-feathered friends because the ice cover and frozen ground makes it challenging for them to find insects and seeds for food. Starvation is a real threat so it’s important to do our part. We can help birds to survive by making our backyards habitable throughout the Winter. In addition to helping the migrating birds that stop along the Atlantic Flyway, bird watchers in Maryland can look forward to year-round residents including northern cardinals, mourning doves, chickadees, wrens, finches, blackbirds, robins, sparrows and even blue jays.

Tips for caring for birds during Winter weather include dusting off snow-laden feeders as often as possible and even scattering seed along the ground and anywhere else accessible. Try putting stashes in evergreen or other trees if bird feeders get iced over or snowpacked. In addition, keep your feeders stocked with the food suited to the birds that frequent your backyard. Though the Starting with Nature Bird Book acknowledges that birds are experts at keeping warm despite plunging temperatures, early and unexpected snow or ice storms can be dangerous to those that are midway through their migratory journey. Not to mention, some birds may not have fully “fattened” up by the time an early storm hits.

Bird Watcher’s Digest (www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/learn/top10/help-birds-bad-weather.php) also suggests using tube feeders to keep seed from getting wet and keeping an extra large dry feeder on hand in the shed or garage to bring out during inclement weather.

Bird food can be found at any grocery store or farm supply stores. The Humane Society (www.humanesociety.org) recommends black-oil sunflower seeds that are high in fat and provide significant energy, millet due to its protein content, peanuts for metal mesh tube feeders, suet cakes (vegetarian or nonvegetarian), Nyjer seeds and medium-sized cracked corn.  Wild Bird Centers claim to only sell field-tested and filler-free birdseed. Not to mention that they offer a “Clunkers for Cash – Feeder Swap” in which customers can bring in their “clunker” feeder and receive a 20 percent discount for a new one. The store also has a free feeder promotion for valued customers as well as “Birdie Bucks” earned with each purchase.

For those of you who want to nurture your bird-watching proclivities beyond your homestead, consider checking out some of the spots CBS Baltimore (http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/top-lists/top-winter-bird-watching-spots/) has selected as “top spots” for doing so in Maryland:

·      Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge (1730 Eastern Neck Road in Rock Hall, www.fws.gov/refuge/eastern_neck/) boasts more than 243 bird species and a new “Tubby Cove” boardwalk through the refuge and three trails for visiting bird habitats. Here bird watchers can see tundra swans that migrate from the Arctic to the marshes of the Chesapeake.

·      Conowingo Dam (Route 1 crossing of the Susquehanna River, 8 miles north of Havre de Grace in Harford County, (www.harfordbirdclub.org/conowingo.html), also an electricity generation plant, features gulls and bald eagles from mid-October through mid-March. This is also home to great blue herons as there is an active heronry on site.

  • Blackwater Wildlife Refuge (2145 Key Wallace Drive in Cambridge, www.fws.gov/refuge/Blackwater/) is 27,000 plus acres of forest, tidal marsh and freshwater ponds. The refuge is acclaimed as “the largest breeding population of bald eagles on the East Coast north of Florida.” Visitors will have the opportunity to view nesting and migrant birds including geese, ducks, northern loons, snowy egrets, osprey, great blue herons and the migrant peregrine falcon. A bonus is the option for visitors to check on the osprey and bald eagle nests online from the comfort of their home.
  • Assateague Island National Seashore (Route 611, eight miles south of Ocean City, www.nps.gov/asis/index.htm) is a perfect habitat for migrating and nesting birds including pelicans, gannets, gulls, ducks, wading birds, shore birds and geese. The park offers a variety of ranger-guided programs along the marshes, dunes, forests and bays. 

And as a final note, the Department of Natural Resources in Maryland has an excellent site on everything you need to know about birds and other wildlife in Maryland. Log onto www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Plants_Wildlife/birdingmd.asp


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