A Lifeline for Birds

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinter is a time of stress for most wildlife, and often the most crucial period of the winter is the last few weeks.  If wildlife is able to locate at least some type of food in the days just before new vegetation emerges and insects become active, it can mean the difference between life and death.

This is certainly true for many of our beloved songbirds, as cardinals, goldfinches, juncos, chickadees, purple finches, house finches and various woodpeckers visit feeders in large numbers.  The extremely drawn out late winter of 2013 is a prime example, as literally hundreds of birds have been flocking to the sunflower, finch seed and suet feeders the last several weeks.  It seems there just isn’t much else available for food, so they are targeting the handouts from humans in numbers I have never seen before.

During this same period of time, I have observed wild birds targeting two types of trees for food and shelter during this stressful time.  Flowering crab trees of certain varieties that retain their fruit on the branches throughout the winter are now being visited in large numbers by robins and other songbirds, as they gobble up the fruit that has become more tasty and nutritious due to the freeze thaw cycles of an entire winter.

By landscaping with plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife, we can both beautify our landscape and provide a food source that often becomes a later winter lifeline for animals awaiting the explosive growth and milder weather of springtime.  The following varieties of flowering crabs produce large amounts of fruit that I have observed being eaten by birds, squirrels and deer during the fall, winter and early spring.

White flowering crabapple trees:  Golden Raindrops; Sugar Tyme; Red Jewel; and Firebird

Pink flowering crabapple trees:  Red Splendor; Adams; Prairiefire

The feeding activity on these trees in recent days has been incredibly intense.  Other trees that provide fall and winter fruits are the Mountain Ash, Eastern Wahoo, and good shrubs with fruit are burning bush, winterberry and viburnums.

An evergreen tree that offers both food and shelter is the Eastern Red Cedar that grows wild on bluffs and hills throughout southern Minnesota.  Extremely dense foliage offers protection, and the pale blue/grey berries are eaten by a number of songbirds to help them survive our harsh winters.  We have these trees available for sale.

You too may want to throw birds a lifeline to survive late winter by planting some of the aforementioned trees and shrubs in your landscape.  It’s a real joy to watch the frenzy of activity as these beautiful birds fight for every morsel in the quest for survival.

Plant a lifeline for the birds this spring, and sit back and enjoy the show!