By Melinda Myers
Give a gift that provides beauty, entertainment, and health benefits throughout the year. With the recent increase in people gardening and bird watching, what could be more perfect than a gift that supports both interests?
Birds visiting feeders, munching on the coneflower seeds in the garden and perching in the shelter of evergreens help brighten the long, often dreary days of winter. Just like gardening, bird watching helps us connect with nature, reduces stress, and elevates our mood. Plus, the gardeners on your list will appreciate the help birds provide managing insect pests. Protein-rich insects and spiders are an essential part of the diet of 96 percent of North American terrestrial birds.
Growing a landscape filled with plants that provide seeds, berries and shelter is a great way to attract these welcome guests to our gardens. Providing additional sources of food, water and shelter can increase the number and diversity of the winged visitors.
Help your gift recipient create a bird feeding station so they can easily watch the birds and enjoy their songs. Include a variety of feeders suited to the birds they want to attract. Select feeders that are easy to fill and clean and protect seed from weather and squirrels.
You’ll attract a wide range of birds with tray and platform feeders. Look for ones like the Gardener’s Supply Twigs Platform Bird Feeder which has a cover to protect the seed from rain and snow and a removable mesh floor for easy cleaning. Platform feeders like this, with excellent drainage, help minimize the risk of wet seed sprouting or supporting bacteria and fungi that can harm the birds. Help keep seeds safe and fresh with regular cleaning and by only providing enough seed for a day or two.
Hopper or house feeders protect seed against the weather and bird droppings. But if the seed gets wet, the closed environment is perfect for bacteria and fungi to thrive. Plus, they are more difficult to clean.
Tube feeders are cylinders with perches and feeding ports. Those with perches above the openings attract birds like goldfinches and chickadees that can feed upside down. Those with small perches discourage large birds from feeding. Select tube feeders with small ports for smaller seeds like Nyjer thistle and ones with larger openings for large seeds.
Look for ones with wire surrounds to keep out squirrels and those that are easy to clean like the Gardener’s Supply Cleaver Clean Tube Feeder with a removable bottom. Reduce problems on other tube feeders by blocking the bottom of the tube that extends below the lowest feeding port. Seed and water can collect there, increasing the risk of fungi and bacteria.
Clean feeders regularly with a 10% non-chlorine bleach solution, commercial birdfeeder cleaner or mild solution of unscented dishwashing soap. Wash the inside and outside of the feeder, perches and feeding ports. Once cleaned, rinse with clear water and dry before refilling.
Provide some shelter from wind, snow, rain, and predators for birds spending the winter in your landscape. Supplement what trees and shrubs provide by including a few roosting boxes and pockets. Gardener’s Supply fair trade roosting pockets (gardeners.com) are attractive, easy to hang, provide some needed insulation and are easy for birds to enter and exit.
Make sure to provide water throughout the year. Those in colder climates will need to add a heater, bubbler, or aerator to prevent the water from freezing. Providing fresh water reduces the calories and body heat a bird uses when melting snow and ice.
Select a birdbath that can be left outside year-round to avoid cracks and leaks as water freezes and place it in a sunny area. Add a few stones so the birds can take a sip without getting totally wet. Keep these clean just as you do during warmer months.
Looking for more ideas? Help your favorite birder prepare for the nesting season with a gift of one or more birdhouses. These make attractive additions to any landscape while providing more homes for visiting songbirds.
When selecting the right gift for your favorite bird watcher or gardener consider creating or expanding your own bird-friendly landscape. A small investment in creating a bird habitat reaps wonderful benefits all year round.
Melinda Myers is the author of over 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.