For the Birds: A different type of bird seed

Monday, October 15, 2012

Goldfinch getting seeds
Photo by John Riegsecker
By Christine Southwick

Many of you have bird feeders, and know how important it is to keep clean, dry seed in the feeders during the fall and winter.

But did you know that many of your flowering trees and shrubs, and cutting flowers, have seeds that birds love, and will eat during the winter-time?

Golden-crowned Sparrow eating snowberries
Photo by Scott Ramos in Magnuson Park

Lots of wintering birds and our resident birds, such as sparrows, Spotted  Towhees,  goldfinches, nuthatches, chickadees, and bushtits, forage on garden and weed seeds, especially in the  winter  when  bugs can be hard to find.

Cone flowers, Bergamot, Black-eyed Susan, Coreopsis, Asters, Zinneas, Columbines,  Millet,  snowberries, salmonberries, raspberries, and yes, even blackberries all provide seeds, and/or attract small bugs that wintering birds need.

Fox Sparrow eating blackberries in Magnuson Park
Photo by Scott Ramos
If you leave tall grass in a back corner or along a fence line, and delay pruning your bushes until about February, when most of us get itchy to be out in the gardens, then you will be helping your local wildlife by supplying warmer and out-of-the-wind habitat during winter. Doing this also provides seed delicacies for the birds, and the birds clinging to plant stems while stretching for those seeds will reward you with hours of fun-to-watch antics.

Prune your fruit and flowering trees about the end of January, early February and you will be leaving habitat for birds during the winter, and priming the trees for strong growth in the spring, thus giving birds lots of blossoms to munch, or to help get rid of blossom bugs.

Golden-crowned Sparrow eating vegetation in the snow
Photo by Scott Ramos in Magnuson Park

Sure, the easiest way to attract birds is to put up bird feeders, and offer water. But it is lots of fun to watch birds forage for their own seeds that you have kindly left for them through the fall, and early winter. 

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she is sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.

For previous For the Birds columns, click on the link under the Features section on the main webpage.


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