Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Providing Food for our Fine Feathered Friends During the Winter

Marketing and advertising are wonderful things getting us to purchase things we need, we may need, or we may not need.  Marketing is largely responsible for many "urban myths" about great landscape plants for birds.  The best example I can provide here is the use of winterberry (Ilex verticillata) as a winter food source for birds.  Winterberry, like other hollies, are not all that great in terms of food value for birds until late in the winter and multiple research studies show these berries are relatively low in nutrient content because they contain a variety of secondary plant chemicals.  They are more important as a late winter emergency food or for early spring migrating species.  Now before everyone gets all upset and writes that the berries on my shrubs are gone in December or January, you have to remember that there is tremendous individual plant variation.  The best use of winterberry is to add color and interest to the winter landscape (hence the bright red berries stay on the plant most of the winter!!  think about it).  Most of the absolutely best birds trees/shrubs typically have high quality fruit that is available in the fall and early winter (or summer as is the case for mulberries and serviceberry).  These species include viburnums, hawthorns, shrubby dogwoods, grape vines, and hackberry.  Other species like small-fruited flowering crabapples, American holly, and sumac are better suited for late winter emergency food sources. So how do birds survive the winter with respect to food resources?  One nifty survival mechanism is the caching of high quality fruits, seeds, and berries. The birds can actually remember where they stored these seeds for an extended period of time. While providing seeds at a feeder can help birds survive bouts of cold weather, it isn't necessary as the birds utilize a wide variety of native foods in addition to visiting multiple feeder sites.  It is much too risky for a bird to only utilize seed in a feeder if it plans to make it to another spring.  Some other methods for keeping warm (and reducing food requirements) is to tuck their feet and legs into their breast feathers, fluffing their feathers to trap air which acts like insulation, roosting in groups or with other birds, lowering their metabolism, shivering and finding adequate shelter (particularly dense thickets or conifers).   A few final thoughts about getting birds through the winter.  Provide some water, but not warm or hot water, for preening (sometimes birds snow preen) to keep their feathers clean so they can fluff them up.  Warm or hot water will freeze on the feathers and will prohibit the birds from flying.  Small birds generally need more food than larger birds and they typically eat more, yet smaller seeds.  The survival of say a Carolina chickadee may be dependent upon how well it can conserve energy and the number of seeds it can eat.  In summary, the point of all of this is to state that don't always believe everything you hear, are told, or read about wildlife and if you are serious about attracting birds to the backyard you will have plants that produce berries and seeds that are available pretty much throughout the fall/winter/ and early spring.

1 comment:

  1. Thank You, for all the interesting and useful information you are providing. And the photos?! Well, they are (how many adjectives could I use) marvelous !