As I write this, it is frigid with some snow, and I see the squirrels running in and out of the brush pile in my backyard stocking up on nuts. They must have a quite a cache under there. Squirrels stay in the leaf nests in trees, keeping the temperature around 40 degrees inside. They look cute as they chase each other. Birds constantly come out of my Eastern Hemlock and Juniper trees and go back in, looking like ornaments on a tree. It's an ever-changing tapestry - having a backyard habitat is a true joy.
Sitting in a warm house bundled up makes winter survival easy, but birds need our help to survive the cold winter. They have to maintain higher body temperatures at an average of 105 degrees. Birds puff up their overlapping feathers (see photo above) with air to create a cocoon of warmth. They waterproof their feathers when they preen using oil from their tail base, and many grow an extra layer of down in their late-fall molt. Some change their diet. On sunny days, they turn their backs to the sun to soak up the rays.
Small flocking birds (such as chickadees, nuthatches and titmice) roost in groups in tight cavities. You can help them by adding a roosting box, brush pile and evergreens to your yard. In extreme conditions, doves and chickadees go into torpor - they lower their metabolism and body temperature to conserve energy. Other ways you can help are to provide quality food (see tips below), keep feeders full for ready access, leave up flower heads and stalks, and offer frost-free water. See details at National Wildlife.
It's a big step to stop putting chemicals on your lawn, but why not make this year be the year you do it? Read Just say NO to lawn-care chemicals by Martha Harter Buckalew. While you're at it, make a late New Year's resolution to eliminate pesticides. Read more details at Audubon.
Good news: Columbus plans to deal with street stormwater runoff and sanitary-sewer overflows into streams and rivers by installing rain gardens. They plan to plant Black-eyed Susans and Coneflowers strategically in the street easement. Columbus is starting this summer in Clintonville, and the project ultimately will take 20 years to plant 20,000 acres in 20 areas of the city. They have put in a maintenance contract for the areas to be weeded and pruned. Ohio EPA said that Columbus will beautify the city and will be a good model for other communities dealing with sewer overflows. Feel free to share the idea where you live. Read more in the Dispatch.
- Tips for high-quality winter bird food from National Wildlife Federation
- During the frigid weather, feed fatty foods like like hulled sunflower seeds, suet and peanuts
- Keep feeders full for ready access
- For your planning, did you know that a mature tree strategically planted by your house can save you up to $200 in energy costs per year? Plant evergreens on the south and west and plant deciduous trees on the north and east sides