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Don’t stop feeding the birds! March 26, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here to remind all you gardeners and homesteaders that it’s not yet time to put away the birdfeeders. It may look like spring, with the robins returning and the bulbs in bloom, but until the soil is warm and insect life is abundant, the birds still need your help. In fact, experts say that now is the most important time to feed the birds. After all, they’ve just completed a grueling return migration and they’re preparing for courtship, nest-building, and egglaying. All these activities require a lot of energy—and there are few bugs and pretty much no seed- or nectar-bearing plants out there to feed them.

I do realize that you may not want a litter of feeders—not to mention seed hulls and other detritus—spoiling your lovely spring landscape. And I don’t blame you! One of my primary winter feeders is a big, rustic hopper feeder that’s on a tree over one of my prettiest garden beds. In spring, the bed is full of beautiful blooming bulbs. So when I see the first sign of shoots emerging, I simply stop filling that feeder. But I keep the tube feeders going until it’s warm enough to set plants out on the deck. You might want to keep one or two tube feeders filled, and clean and store the rest. And you can always move the feeders to a less conspicuous part of the yard.

Of course, lots of folks enjoy feeding the birds year-round and think that their colorful antics enhance the garden. (If you’re one of them and you don’t know Birds & Blooms magazine, check it out—I think you’d enjoy it.) I set out feeders at the end of summer last year just to see what would happen, and loved seeing the goldfinches clustering round with their bold yellow plumage (in fall, they moult and become a much less conspicuous yellow-olive). So I think this year I’ll keep a tube feeder up for them year-round, filled with their favorite Nyjer seed. There are always goldfinches back in the meadow garden, but the tube feeder will bring them closer so I can enjoy the show!  

Don’t forget the water, either. It’s even more important than food. Luckily, birdbaths come in so many styles that it’s easy to find one that will be an asset in your landscape rather than an eyesore. And you can always tuck one discreetly among plants at ground level—they don’t have to be on pedestals (unless, of course, you have outdoor cats in your neighborhood!). Keep in mind that birds like shallow water—no more than an inch or two deep—so if your birdbath is too deep, add some pebbles so the birds can perch safely while they drink or bathe. And please hose it out every day or two so the water stays fresh and mosquito-free.

So keep a feeder or two going and add a birdbath to your yard. Just these two simple steps are all it takes for your backyard birds to enjoy spring as much as you do.

What about hummingbirds, you ask? When you’re choosing plants for the garden, remember to add a few nectar-bearers like columbines, monarda (bee balm), and trumpetvine for the hummers. If you plant them near the deck, patio, porch, or wherever you enjoy relaxing, you can bring hummingbirds up close and enjoy their antics without having to worry about filling nectar feeders. 

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Comments»

1. deb - March 26, 2008

Thanks for the reminder.

Most welcome!

2. Nancy Bond - March 26, 2008

I continue to feed the birds until what seed I have is gone — which should be another month or so. I live in an apartment, and the birds are a bright spot on the balcony on grey days. I enjoy their antics all year round, but have to make way for flowers soon. :)

I remember those apartment days too, Nancy! I had so many containers of plants out on the balcony that there was barely room to turn around. But my best visitor was not a bird but a tree toad! He hung around in one of the containers for a whole season!

3. Joy - March 26, 2008

Hi Richard .. yes .. the water thing .. thanks for the reminder on that too .. we have our regular Morning Doves with us .. they are such sweet birds .. they keep us company until the Goldfinch families start their antics : )

Yes, four mourning doves out back just this morning here too, Joy! I of course am waiting for the columbines to bloom so they can bring the hummingbirds…

4. Sue - March 26, 2008

Not sure where you are, but I’m guessing the States? i always do a doubletake when i read something like “the robins are coming back”. Our European robins are traditionally seen as a winter bird. they’re actually there all year but are more evident when the vegetation is sparse and, finding less “natural” food, are more attracted to feeders etc.
But you’re right – don’t stop feeding until there’s plenty of other food around.

Yes, I live in Pennsylvania, where the return of the robin is widely considered to be the harbinger of spring. I was half expecting to be taken to task by gardeners who live in the South and Southwestern U.S., where spring is well advanced and/or it stays relatively warm all winter, but I should have expected to hear from European gardeners as well. Thanks for reminding me!

5. Cinj - March 26, 2008

Still too cold and snowy for birds to return over here. I can hardly wait! I keep my feeders out until around mother’s day when I can feel safe putting out my freshly planted hanging baskets. Good reminder!

I know each day feels like a lifetime when spring’s getting so close, Cinj! But hang in there–one day, when you’re rushing around doing chores and birds are the last thing on your mind, you’ll suddenly look up and they’ll be there. And all that waiting will have been worth it!

6. Silvia - March 26, 2008

Do you know if trumpet vines grow well in large pots or planters? I’d love to have them on my back porch, growing on the railing.

Hi Silvia! Trumpetvines get huge and woody, like wisteria, so I wouldn’t choose them for a container–and certainly wouldn’t let them near my porch railing! Instead, how about lovely annual vines like climbing nasturtiums, cardinal climber, and/or morning glories? You’ll get abundant, beautiful, hummer-friendly blooms and won’t have to worry about denuded branches on your railing in the winter or whether the plants’ roots will freeze in the pots. Let me know what you choose–and I can recommend other vines if you don’t want these!


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