How to Help Backyard Birds Survive Freezing and Snowy Weather

Animals and humans both need to manage through winter’s adverse conditions of freezing weather and snowstorms. When we’re all tucked up in our warm homes, it’s easy to overlook what we can do to make winter survival easier for wildlife in our backyards.

Photo: © Mike Hamilton

Many people care about and enjoy the birds visiting their backyards and want to provide them with nourishment during the winter. Bird feeders filled with seeds or hummingbird feeders are popular amongst people as well as birds. Please keep the following steps in mind to help prevent issues and illness of the backyard wildlife:

Hummingbird Feeders

  • Use the following recipe for sugar water. Mix 4 parts of boiled water with 1 part of white sugar. Stir, cool and fill up the feeder. No need to use food colouring, honey or other products. This will prevent bacteria and fungal growth in the feeder.
  • Use a feeder warmer or rotate feeders during freezing weather. Remember that hummingbirds have very high metabolism and feed constantly from dawn to just after dusk. Frozen nectar in feeders can literally starve hummingbirds, causing them to suffer very low levels of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), their body’s main energy source.
  • Although hummingbirds also feed on insects they can find in tree bark, hummingbirds are very dependent on backyard feeders to survive in freezing and snowy weather. To avoid freezing, alternate two feeders when temperatures drop towards zero and replace the one that froze overnight with one that is warm and fluid in the morning before you head to work. Another option is to purchase a feeder warmer that keeps the nectar from freezing.
  • Clean feeders regularly to prevent disease spread. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned once a week at a minimum during winter and more often during the summer. The feeder should be emptied, the sugar water in the feeder disposed of, and the feeder and its ports cleaned using a bottle brush with a mild solution of dish soap and bleach.

Seed Feeders

Bird feeders can provide songbirds with extra nutrition during the winter, but can pose some risks as well. The birds species found in our area are adapted to survive the winter and natural food sources are available to them.

Bird feeders make wildlife susceptible to cat and predator attacks, disease spread, bacterial infection, and territorial aggression. To prevent these common dangers, here are some tips that are helpful year-round:

  • Clean the seed feeders every few weeks and wait to re-hang the feeder for a week. This will disperse the population and lessen the chance of spreading disease or causing birds to get aggressive due to crowding. Disease spread is not uncommon and can include viral or bacterial infections in their eyes (conjunctivitis), or scaly leg mites (microscopic insects that live underneath the scales on the bird’s lower legs and feet), an uncomfortable and often fatal condition.
  • Replace bird seed regularly and thoroughly wash the feeder. If left too long, bacteria and fungus will grow and either kill or weaken the birds so they don’t have a fighting chance for winter. Use small amounts of seeds and wash the feeder regularly with a 10% bleach solution. Clean underneath the feeder regularly as some birds forage on the ground.
Photo: Paul Steeves
  • Keep cats indoors. Birds at feeders can be easy pray for cats that don’t need to feed on wildlife to survive. Protect both your cat and birds by keeping them indoors or provide them with a catio.

In summary, while the extra boost of calories and nutrition from bird feeders can help birds gain strength needed to survive the inclement winter months, some simple steps will ensure good intentions don’t become bad.

All about Mason Bees

Blue Orchard Mason Bees are expert pollinators and DON’T sting (the males don’t even have a stinger). They are metallic blue/black and are smaller than typical honeybees (so they look like flies). Bee populations have dropped by 50 percent in the last 25 years! Habitat loss, climate change and pesticides have all contributed to this decline. But we can help by making backyard habitats for these solitary critters!

Re-useable Mason Bee Home Materials

  1. Container (empty coffee can, flower pot)
  2. Tape
  3. Bath tissue rolls, brown paper or newspaper.
  4. Pencil
  5. Scissors
  6. String
  7. Peat moss (optional)

Remember to build with an adult!

1. Prepare the Container.

Thoroughly clean it, inside and out. If using an
empty coffee can or similar, remove the lid but
leave the bottom intact. If using a flowerpot,
cover the drainage hole with paper and tape.

2. Make Nesting Tubes.

Create a nesting tube by first cutting, then
rolling the tissue rolls (or paper) snugly around a pencil to make a
sturdy tube. Secure with a few pieces of tape, and gently slide out
the pencil. Close one end of the tube by covering it with tape.

3. Assemble the Bee House.

Place each nesting tube inside the container with all open ends
facing out. If available, add moss in the gaps between tubes for
insulation, support and a comfortable environment. Tie the sting
tightly around the container so you can hang it. (Or bunch holes in
the side of the container and knot the string inside)

4. Find the Right Site.

Choose a south-facing spot in your yard that
will be protected from rain, and hang it about eye level. Trees and
fence posts are natural choices if available.

5. Housing Care.

In the summer or fall careful take out the rolls
and empty the bee cocoons from them. Store cocoons in a dark and
cool place until early spring when you will set them beside your
bee house, with brand new tubes that you now know how to make!

6. How to Encourage more Mason Bees to Visit!

  • Set up more than one mason bee house in different locations.
  • Have plenty of flowering plants growing nearby to provide the
    bees with nectar and pollen.
  • If you notice birds pecking at the bee house, cover the entrance
    with chicken wire.

Sarah and Sam the Snow Geese

Snow Geese are a type of animal we only see in winter at the Wildlife Rescue. Can you guess why? The answer is because they migrate!

Migration is the movement of a group of animals from one place to another. Animals migrate for many reasons, but Snow Geese migrate because it is too cold and there is not enough food in Siberia and the Canadian Arctic, where they spend summers. Sometimes these amazing geese can fly all the way from their summer homes in less than two days!

No wonder, then, that two snow geese came into the Wildlife Rescue in November looking very skinny and very hungry. The first to visit the Care Centre, Sarah, was fully grown and found in Vancouver at English Bay. She was so tired and hungry she could not even hold up her head when she came in. The Wildlife rescuers were very nervous that she would not recover because for days they tried to help her but she only kept getting more sick.

Two weeks later another juvenile snow goose, Sam, came to the Wildlife Rescue. He was also tired and hungry, like Sarah. After flying so far away he would not have sur­vived on his own without help from the Wildlife Rescuers. Snow geese love their families: they mate for life and children migrate with their parents. This gave the Wildlife Rescuers an idea. They put Sam in the same enclosure as Sarah to see if having company would make her feel better. Sure enough, she immediately started improving.

Sam loved following Sarah around and doing what she did. When she swam, he swam. When she ate, he ate. Two weeks later, Sarah and Sam were able to be released weighing almost twice as much as they did when they first came in!

We hope they live happily ever after.

Cat Injury

One of the most common reasons birds get injured are cats. At the Wildlife Rescue over 300 birds are brought in with injuries that are caused by cats every year.