Supporting Winter Birds

Posted: October 1, 2015

Many birds leave for warmer climates but many also still call Pennsylvania home in winter. Most of us think of using bird feeders and heated bird baths as a way to support wintering birds, but there are several natural things you can do to keep them comfortable and encourage them to stay in your yard.
Bird in Winter Landscape

Bird in Winter Landscape

Birds stay in areas where food and shelter are readily available. Planting fruit bearing native trees and shrubs offer nutritional sustenance that help feed migrating birds and Pennsylvania residents throughout the winter. Southern Arrowwood, Viburnum denatum is a valuable native shrub in this region. The berries on this particular shrub persist through December. These are most commonly enjoyed by robins, cedar waxwing, northern mockingbird, eastern bluebird, and gray catbirds. In addition to Southern Arrowwood Cornell University suggests the following native plants for the northeast region: Common Elderberry, Common Serviceberry, Silky Dogwood, and Spicebush.

As birds nosh on their favorite berries and seeds, many retreat to a covered area to finish their meal. Planting evergreen shrubs and conifers such as the Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana are a great retreat for birds and provide a safe spring nesting habitat for shrub nesting birds such as the northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, and song sparrow. The dark-eyed junco enjoy feeding close to the ground and will forage on summer's leftover seeds. Keeping expired flower heads in the garden help sustain these seed-loving birds naturally. Winterberry, Ilex verticillata and Bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica help sustain berry lovers such as black-capped chickadees and red-bellied woodpeckers through winter.

The holidays offer another source for bird habitats. After the celebrations are over and it's time to discard your cut Christmas tree, give it a second life by offering it to the birds for the remaining winter months. A small brush pile and an added recycled Christmas tree will offer additional protection in the harsh winter temperatures. Keeping a brush pile away from your home is recommended as little critters might hang out in there too.

With all of these birds in your yard you'll want to try to create an environment that will discourage them from flying into windows.

  • Place bird feeders either within 3 feet or greater than 30 feet from your window.
  • Minimize reflections in the window. Keep them less transparent with curtains, blinds, netting, transparent stickers, or a spray such as fake snow on the outside.
  • Hang decorative items in front of the window such as a wind chime, wreath, or any other decorative element.


Contact Information

Tanya Hopkins
  • Master Gardener Volunteer