Nurturing Colorado’s Feathered Friends

A Guide to Supporting Backyard Birds
Through Winter

Here in Colorado, our feathered friends enjoy a variety of food sources and abundant water supplies during our warmer months, but they can face an array of challenges when it comes to surviving winter conditions. It’s important to be aware of what birds need at this time of year and the vital role that bird enthusiasts can play in supporting local avian populations.

Backyard birds need three things to survive the harsh conditions they’ll experience in the winter: food, water, and shelter. It’s crucial to provide proper food sources, adequate shelter, and access to unfrozen water throughout this difficult season.

Birdseed Blends: A Winter Buffet
One of the most effective ways to aid birds in their winter survival is by offering a diverse and nutritious menu through thoughtfully chosen bird seed blends. Rather than bread, which most people think is a good food source, birds need seed blends that are denser in calories and help them generate the energy they need to fly and stay warm. During the winter, natural food sources become scarce, making backyard feeding stations a lifeline for our feathered neighbors.

Consider incorporating a mix of seeds to feed a variety of bird species that may visit your feeders. Black oil sunflower seeds are a favorite among many birds, including chickadees, nuthatches, and finches. Safflower seeds are an excellent choice, as they are less attractive to squirrels, reducing competition for the precious winter food supply. Nyjer seeds are rich in oils, providing essential energy for small finches like goldfinches and siskins.

Adding suet cakes to your feeder can be a game-changer in the winter! High in fat and calories, suet helps birds maintain their energy levels in cold temperatures. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees are particularly fond of suet, making it a valuable addition to your backyard bird buffet.

It’s also important to be consistent with your feeding schedule. Birds will come to rely on the food sources you offer, and a consistent supply helps them navigate the challenges of winter.

Providing Shelter: A Winter Refuge
Colorado winters can be harsh at times, and the importance of shelter for birds cannot be overstated. Dense vegetation, evergreen trees, and well-designed birdhouses offer essential protection from harsh winds and freezing temperatures.

Consider installing birdhouses designed for specific species that reside in your region. Bird houses can be simple or complex and come in many sizes. The size of the entry hole is important for attracting specific kinds of birds. Make sure the house is equipped with a removable panel so it can be cleaned between uses and a drainage hole so water doesn’t collect in the house. Properly placed and maintained birdhouses can be essential for cavity-nesting birds such as chickadees, bluebirds, and wrens.

In addition to natural and artificial shelters, placing brush piles in your yard can create hiding spots for birds seeking protection from predators and harsh weather. These piles also attract insects, providing an additional food source for foraging birds.

Water: A Liquid Lifeline
While it might seem counterintuitive, providing water for birds during the winter is just as important as offering food. Birdbaths provide a safe spot both for drinking and for birds to clean their feathers. Natural water sources can freeze over, leaving birds without access to this vital component of their survival.

You can easily provide water for birds in a birdbath or simply by leaving a saucer full of water near the feeder. Electric de-icers can be used to keep the water from freezing. Alternatively, you can add a submersible heater to your existing bird bath to keep the water ice-free.

When positioning your bird bath, choose a location that offers a clear line of sight for approaching predators, ensuring the safety of the birds while they drink and bathe. Regularly check the water level and clean the bird bath to prevent the spread of diseases.

As winter blankets the Colorado landscape, our efforts to support backyard birds become crucial for their survival. By providing a diverse range of birdseed blends, offering shelter, and ensuring access to unfrozen water, we can make a significant difference in the lives of our feathered friends.

Early Spring Garden Tips

“I love spring anywhere,
but if I could choose,
I would always greet it
in a garden.”

~ Ruth Stout ~

We all look forward to the spring season with delight each year. The promise of warmer weather, more daylight, and all of those beautiful spring flowers is a welcome reward after a long winter of grey days, icy air, and shoveling snow. Soon trees and shrubs will be budding, bulbs and perennials will begin emerging from the ground, and our gardens will slowly come back to life once again. Though it’s still too early to plant, there’s plenty to do in the garden. Grab your garden tools, and let’s get started!

CARE OF GARDEN TOOLS — Speaking of garden tools, early spring is a good time to make sure they’re ready for the upcoming season. Check your gardening supplies so that you’ll have what you need in the spring. Gives your garden gloves a good wash and dry, or replace worn ones. Take time to clean all tools thoroughly, removing any residual soil, then inspect for damage or rust. If you do find rust, give those areas a good scrub with steel wool. It will be a long season of work for your garden tools, so it’s a good idea to have them sharpened at the beginning of the season. Echter’s can do that for you! Simply bring in your tools (and lawn mower blades), and for a nominal fee, we’ll sharpen them. If you need to replace or add to your garden tool arsenal, stop by. We’re well stocked with all kinds of garden implements — especially at the beginning of the year.

EARLY SPRING CLEANUP — Winter can be hard on your garden! Take a walk around your garden to assess any winter damage. Remove debris leftover from winter storms, and tidy up the garden beds and boxes. Clean up any dead annual or vegetable plants that remained over the winter. Trim back the tattered foliage or old bloom stalks of perennials to encourage new growth to come in. Cut back ornamental grasses as low as possible, so the old foliage won’t detract from the new growth. Don’t be in too big a hurry to remove mulches though. There are plenty of beneficial pollinators overwinter in gardens by hibernating in dried leaf piles and last-season’s perennial plants, and March can still be one of our snowiest months!

PREPARE YOUR SOIL — Now is a good time to add organic amendments like compost and peat moss. Rototill or spade into your garden soil to a depth of 6 inches.

PLAN YOUR VEGETABLE GARDEN — A great vegetable garden starts with a great plan! Make a list of what you’d like to grow, how much area you have, and how many of each plant you’d like to grow. Check seed packets for plants’ mature sizes, sunlight and watering needs, and the yield of the veggies when planning. Then have fun mapping out and designing your planting areas!

IT’S TIME TO PRUNE — If you didn’t get to it in February, you can still do pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs in March. Some exceptions would be birch, maple, walnut, and elm. These should be pruned in mid-summer. In early spring, you can still easily see the branching structure of trees and shrubs before the leaves start coming in. Begin by removing the three Ds: anything dead, damaged, or diseased. Then move on to any crossed branches (branches that rub against another), water sprouts (branches that grow straight up from the branch), and suckers (branches that spring up from the base of the tree or shrub). Generally speaking, remove young branches that are growing inwards towards the center of the tree as opposed to outwards. Use a pole pruner to reach branches up to about 15 ft. off the ground. Pruning paints and wound dressings are not recommended on the pruning cuts. If you missed it, here’s a deeper dive into late-winter pruning.

GET STARTED ON SOME EARLY LAWN CARE — As in other areas of the garden, begin by checking for any problems that may have developed. Once the snow has melted off your lawn, check the turf in shaded areas for snow mold, a fungus that is white to pink in color and grows on the surface of the grass blades. If you see evidence of snow mold, lightly rake the affected areas and dispose of the debris. Any remaining mold should dissipate on its own after that.

LAWNS SHOULD BE CORE AERATED once or twice each year. That’s done by poking holes in the ground and pulling out plugs. This reduces soil compaction and helps control thatch in lawns while also helping water and fertilizer move into the root zone. Schedule your lawn for an aeration in March, and prepare by marking your sprinkler heads to avoid having them damaged. Water the lawn the day before aerating, so it will be softer and easier to pull plugs. Then water again after aeration to help the lawn recover. Leaving the plugs on the surface will help break down the thatch that has accumulated.

GET A HEAD START ON WEEDS — You can begin to get ahead of weeds by choosing a lawn fertilizer with a pre-emergent as your first feeding of the year. This will prevent annual weed seeds from germinating, and give your lawn a chance to thicken up and discourage weeds on its own. It’s best to apply these after aerating the lawn. This is important because aerating after a pre-emergent will greatly reduce its effectiveness!

OVERSEEDING — As the weather begins to reliably warm up in March, you can begin overseeding thin areas of lawn. Rake areas to be seeded to expose and loosen the soil, then apply a thin layer of Nature’s Yield Compost . Use a high-quality seed blended for your conditions. Echter’s has many different blends to choose from. A hand spreader will help to apply the seed evenly. After seeding, be sure to keep the surface area moist until the seed is well germinated.

PLANT COLD-HARDY CROPS — While it’s too early to plant tender, warm-season plants, it is time to plant some early cold-hardy crops. Things like onion sets, bare-root strawberries, asparagus roots and seed potatoes can be sowed directly into the vegetable garden in March. Be sure to keep a frost blanket handy for any late-season frosts, just to be on the safe side.

START SEEDS INDOORS — Now is the time to start broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, alyssum, lobelia, pansy, and geranium seeds inside for planting out later in the spring. Start tomatoes and peppers inside now, then they’ll be ready to transfer to the garden beds in late May.

PREPARE BIRDHOUSES FOR THE BUSY SPRING SEASON — Returning birds will be looking for real estate soon! In preparation for the new arrivals, clean out and sterilize last year’s birdhouses, or put up new ones. Make sure any older birdhouses are still firmly mounted as well. It’s a good time to perform bird feeder maintenance too. Clean out all feeders and fill with fresh seed. You may also want to consider creating a pile of nesting materials to make your yard extra inviting for this year’s visitors.

Winter is for the Birds

During cold winter months, birds provide color and entertainment outside. It’s easy to lure feathered beauties to a feeder, whether it’s on a balcony or in the yard. With a tiny amount of effort, you can draw birds year round. In order to flourish, our bird friends need 3 things; food, water and housing. Houses offer protection from winter’s cold. Different foods draw different birds. As you might imagine, some of them have preferences. We have bird food to satisfy most any of our feathered friends.goldfinch

Black oil sunflower seed is one of the most popular among birds and birders. This one seed draws dozens of species to your feeder. If you’ve never set up a feeder before, start with sunflower seed and tube feeder. It will give you and the birds great satisfaction, while providing a good balance of fiber, protein and fats that keep birds

Most bird food is comprised of a mixed ingredients that provide an optimal nutrient value to the birds. Look for food that provides an identifiable list of ingredients. A good food will also provide a nutritional analysis, so you will know that you’re providing them with what they need, not just filler.

Colorado has an abundance of Finches, Jays, Woodpeckers, Starlings, Grosbeaks, Hermit Thrush, and many more. They love fruit and berry seed blends. There’s also a Deck, Porch and Patio blend that leaves little refuse behind. Birds aren’t known to be neat eaters, so it helps to have “clean” food in the feeder for them.  downy-woodpecker

Suet is a great way to feed birds in winter.  Suet is ideal for high energy birds, with full-tilt metabolisms.  It provides adequate nutritional value and added fat to see them through winter.  Suet cakes usually last a week or so, making it easy to maintain the feeder.

The one thing we all wrestle with is the pesky squirrel. Those agile little thieves love to raid the feeder. They’re enough of a problem that most manufacturers make special feeders, that have a cage around the feeding tube, eliminating the squirrel’s ability to access the food. Now, if you’re a fan squirrels, a squirrel feeder might be a good decoy.horned-lark

Keep fresh water in shallow saucers outside for birds to access, toohouse-finch.

Place your feeders where you can see them from the house or patio. That way you get to enjoy the show these beautiful creatures provide during the winter months.