Conservation of energy is the number one law in nature. For wildlife, winter is a time of diminishing food resources. Even a small handful of seeds offered can mean the difference between life and death.
Animals are generally quite good at finding food and scratching out a living during winter, but that does not mean it is easy, or that they do not experience hardships and even death. Small birds must eat enough food every single day to replenish the fat stores lost during the cold winter nights as they try and stay warm. By morning, their reserves are quite low and so need to take in sufficient calories, especially fats, to stoke their metabolic furnaces to keep from freezing to death. With limited daylight hours to forage, birds must work quickly, but this also means spending additional energy in their search for food.
If you have established a backyard bird feeding station, be diligent about keeping it clean and filled each day with quality seed and suet. Be sure to provide fresh clean water in a shallow dish or bowl for animals both large and small to drink from. When freezing temperatures arrive, available water sources such as small ponds, puddles, and streams are usually frozen, thus limiting access to drinking water. Even if you did not put food outside, but maintained an unfrozen dish of clean water, you will attract grateful birds and other wildlife. Deer regularly visit the heated bird bath at the sanctuary to drink (and drain!) the water from this bowl. Birds delight in a bath to splash around it, keeping their feathers clean and properly maintained. This in turn helps keep the insulating properties of their feathers functioning well, thus conserving more energy.
Even if you have no established feeder, or you live in an apartment, you can still take a walk to a local town park or nature sanctuary with your pockets full of seeds. Please do not feed birds – or any wild animals – bread products, domestic pet food, or snack food. These things can cause harm to their digestive systems as well as lead to malnutrition and even death.
Next spring, consider planting natural food sources that will be available during fall and winter. Native grasses such as Foxtail, Indian grass, and Switch grass provide an abundant seed source over the winter. You can even plant small amounts of corn, alfalfa, clover, and other nutritional plants for animals to nibble on in winter. The classic “peanut butter pine cones” are a great and relatively inexpensive way to help supplement food sources for birds. Just spread the peanut butter on and under the opened scales of pine or spruce cones, then roll the mixture in bird seed and hang in the bushes and trees around your home.
In this season of giving, let us not forget our animals brothers and sisters who share with us their beauty and their wisdom of living in harmony with the earth and each other. You can give something back to the earth and her creatures by offering this gift of food and love to wildlife – you just might be saving a life.