BIRDING: Helping birds prepare for winter |

BIRDING: Helping birds prepare for winter

Larry Collins
Free Press Home & Garden Columnist


It is a myth that hummingbirds fly south on the backs of geese; they do not. They do, however, migrate individually instead of in a flock.

Well, fall is almost upon us, and with it comes questions on what to do to help birds prepare for winter. Today, I am going to address the most frequently asked questions.

You will see birds use houses in the winter. These houses provide a place for winter roosting rather than nesting. Birds can usually survive cold temperatures but need protection from the wind. A winter roost is a place where birds can be protected from the wind. Don’t be surprised to see multiple birds huddled together in a birdhouse in the winter. You will also see birds congregate together in dense evergreen trees for protection from the wind.

Now is a good time to clean out your birdhouses of summer nesting material or to hang new houses for winter usage. Soap and water and even a little bleach (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) can be used to clean out the houses. The birds will also be looking at these houses as possible nesting sites for next spring.

Hummingbirds have started their migration. We will continue to have them in the Grand Valley as late as October. Continuing to offer nectar is not going to keep hummingbirds from migrating. They are naturally migratory birds, and when they decide it is time to go, they go whether we have nectar out for them or not. It is a myth that hummingbirds fly south on the backs of geese; they do not. They do, however, migrate individually instead of in a flock. This practice can sometimes make it more difficult to find food without more birds helping to locate a food source.

I recommend you leave the nectar out for as long as you see hummingbirds coming to it, and then continue offering nectar for another 2 or 3 weeks. By doing so, late migrating birds can still get something to eat.

Some people feed birds only in the summer and wonder if they should feed them in the winter. The answer is a definite yes. Most people who enjoy feeding birds feed them year-round. It is actually more important to feed birds in the winter than in summer. Birds have access to the natural growth of seeds in summer and rely less on the food we supply. During winter, that natural food source can be depleted or covered with snow. These factors make it more important that we offer them food to eat.

Provide birds with food that are high in protein and fat. Black oil sunflower, Nyjer (thistle), millet, peanuts, peanut butter, and suet are the best. These foods will help them maintain their supply of body fat. This fat supply assists in keeping them warm in the winter.

Local bird expert Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard birdfeeding experience possible. Email your birdfeeding and birding questions to and he’ll answer them in his bi-weekly Q&A column in the Free Press.

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