ATTRACTING WINTER WILDLIFE
Many backyard gardeners lament the onset of winter and the absence of color and interest in their gardens.
But smart planning can create a garden that provides winter interest as well — in the form of wildlife, especially birds. Not all birds fly south for the winter. Many species choose to stick it out right here in New Jersey. When planned, such landscapes are often known as habitat gardens. Not only do they create year-round interest, but they also help birds survive the coldest months of the year.
Creating a habitat garden or winter wildlife landscape requires three simple ingredients: food, water and shelter.
Feeding wildlife in winter: Select good food sources
The best plants for attracting winter birds includes seed and fruit-producing varieties. Native trees and shrubs that produce berries are some of the best food sources for wintering birds. These plantings help birds meet their proper nutrition with the correct ratio of fats and lipids. Winter berry-producing shrubs provide sustenance when the other food sources disappear during winter. Even insect- or worm-eating eating birds such as robins, bluebirds and chickadees will eat berries in winter to survive.
Plants that bear fruit, berries, nectar, cones or seeds are ideal. Fruit and seed-bearing trees include ash, crabapple, oak and walnut. Good choices for shrubs include dogwood, honeysuckle and chokecherry. Holly bushes are good choices too; just remember that you’ll need both male and female shrubs to produce berries. Flowers can leave behind a bevy of seed for winter feedings — sunflowers, black-eyed susans, clovers andgoldenrod are good examples. Rather than cleaning up the fallen seedheads of flower beds, leave them behind to provide a good winter meal for sparrows, juncos, goldfinches and others. When your garden is designed to nurture through all seasons, birds should find ample sustenance. But bird feeders also can be used to supplement natural food sources. Feeders are particularly useful when snow makes lower-lying plants inaccessible to wildlife.
Protecting wildlife in winter: Create shelter
By planting a diversity of native vegetation, your landscape will be well adapted to local weather and soil conditions, making for a healthier landscape with more attractions for wildlife. A good strategy to accomplish this is to use vertical layering, a technique that adds height gradually, providing wildlife with excellent habitat options. For instance, a lawn can lead to shrubs, then climbing vines, and then a variety of trees of different heights.
When used in combination with evergreens, vertical laying provides a key second ingredient: shelter. Evergreens and vines can provide wind blocks and protection from the elements. Dead trees, fallen logs and brush piles also provide excellent winter shelter for birds. Some species, such as woodpeckers, will hollow out their own cavities for shelter. Just be aware that logs and brush piles should be kept away from the home, as they can also attract unwanted wildlife such as rodents.
Natural shelter can be enhanced with artificial sheltering such as nesting boxes, bird or bat houses. Owls, bluebirds and wrens are all too happy to find “turn-key” homes for winter residence.
Attracting wildlife in winter: Provide water
Finally, birds need a drink too. Birds are able to melt snow to drink, but consume a lot of energy in the process. Providing clean water offers birds a critical resource while allowing them to conserve energy for other activities. Heated winter birdbaths are available in most birding stores or online, and come in several varieties. To get birds through brief spells of below-freezing weather, you can even place a heated brick in your birdbath. Whatever you do, be sure to clean the water supply regularly.
Food, shelter and water — that’s all it takes to add vibrant color and interest to your garden, even during the coldest months of the year. So sit back in your kitchen with a cup of hot cocoa, and enjoy the view, knowing that your efforts have helped the environment and some beautiful creates make it through winter.