A few weeks ago a friend was lamenting the fact that she had to get busy and put her garden “to bed” for the winter, because the days and nights were beginning to get chilly. Flowers, grasses and other plantings needed to be pulled out or at least cut down. It was going to take days! My advice was to forget it, and leave the garden intact as is. Leave the cleanup until spring.
In doing so, we can help the birds get through the colder months of the year. Song sparrows, fox sparrows and golden–crowned sparrows, for example, will find their way to yards that offer tasty seed snacks and protection from the elements and predators. Plants that have gone to seed will help feed them, and shrubs with a few leftover berries will too.
Some plants, such as fuchsias planted in pots, can be left out during late fall and winter. They will continue to flower offering nectar and maybe even an insect or two for the Anna’s hummingbird. The Anna’s is a permanent resident on the Peninsula and often needs help during the colder days of winter when few flowers are blooming and the insects are not plentiful. Keeping the hummingbird feeder going will be a welcome addition to any yard and a great gift for this beautiful little hummer.
Leaves can be left on the lawn or in the garden. Sparrows, towhees, jays, juncos, robins and thrushes love to scratch in leaf litter for tasty snacks. Twigs and branches make great brush piles for birds like the Pacific wren that likes to skulk in the denseness of underbrush searching for a tasty meal. In general, brush piles offer protection and places for roosting to several species of birds.
As winter approaches keeping the bird bath clean and full on a daily basis will add to your enjoyment and entertainment. red crossbills have been frequenting our bird bath by the dozens two or three times a day. There have been so many birds wanting to bathe and drink these days that, as of this moment, a second bird bath has been added to the yard!
Last but not least, as part of our fall and winter preparations, it is time to clean the bird feeders and then fill them up with those nutritious, small, black sunflower seeds. Most of our birds love them! It also doesn’t hurt to have some white millet on hand for sprinkling on the ground for the ground feeders. A daily handful is all that is needed.
I think I gave my friend good advice! An unkempt garden is the way to go at this time of year. Spring clean-ups make much more sense than fall cleanups. The birds give us gifts. This year my garden produced four gorgeous sunflowers. They were gifts from the birds. I didn’t plant black sunflower seeds, but the birds did! They kindly dropped a few and they grew. The flowers are now busy producing seeds. I will leave the plants so I can give back. Pine siskins, American goldfinch and other seed eaters will soon flock to the seed heads. They will be one of my gifts to the birds! The others will be protection and sustenance throughout the coming months by leaving my yard as it is until spring! What will your gift to the birds be for the coming season?
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.