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.

Nurturing Houseplants in Winter

Now that our doors and windows are closed for the winter, houseplants provide a welcome splash of life and color in our indoor landscape.

Fresh, vibrant, and green, those innocent looking houseplants contribute much more than just a touch of color though. They play a significant role in keeping stale, recirculated air clean. Plants create fresh oxygen, filter dangerous toxins out of the air, and add a bit of fresh air to any room they live in. For the most part, houseplants are pretty easy to care for, but the winter season can present some special challenges for them. Here are a few quick tips to make your indoor garden a successful one.

Adequate light is one of the most important environmental factors in successfully growing plants indoors. Too little light may make your plant leggy with spindly new growth. Let your plants receive as much light as possible during the darker winter days. As the angle of the sun changes and the days get shorter, you may want to rearrange your plants to ensure they’re getting sufficient light in the winter months.

If you don’t have a sunny windowsill to house your indoor garden, grow lights can be especially useful. The proper lighting can supplement sunlight, or replace it entirely in the winter! Echter’s carries everything from full-spectrum bulbs to fluorescent grow tubes that fit in standard fixtures. Add some digital timers, and getting enough hours of light for your houseplants becomes effortless!

Place your plants well away from winter’s chill. Don’t put them near entry doors where they will be exposed to cold drafts. Make sure the leaves of your plants living in window areas don’t actually touch the window. Minimize exposing plants to temperature extremes by placing them well away from your heating system’s air vents and also away from your fireplace.

Remember that indoor plants need less water & fertilizer during the short days of winter. Shorter days mean less growth, so you’ll want to water only when your plants require it.

Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants! Frequent watering forces air from the soil and opens the door for root-killing bacteria and fungus to move in. Surface soil can dry out more quickly during winter months, but that’s not a good indicator that the plant needs water. Push your finger into the soil to determine if it is dry an inch or two below the surface—that’s when it’s time to bring out the watering can. Avoid shocking your plants’ roots by using room-temperature water in the winter. Use fertilizer at half strength every other time you water until about mid-March.

Houseplants will benefit from added humidity. Humidifiers are great, but you can also use a simple-to-make pebble tray. Take an oversized saucer, add pebbles, and fill halfway with water. Then place your plant on the pebbles. As the water evaporates, add more, but don’t let the plant sit in water. 

Dry air in our winter-warm homes can create a favorable environment for pests. Keep a close eye on your plants’ leaves for signs of problems. Periodically check your plants with a magnifying glass.

Thoroughly check the undersides of leaves, stems, and branch axils. Look for common plant pests such as spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, & fungus gnats. Spotting problems and responding to them early can keep populations from exploding.

Just as winter is a season of rest for the outdoor garden (and the gardener!), consider it an off season for your houseplants, and give them a season of rest too. Give them the essentials, but leave things like repotting and propagation until spring when your plants begin growing actively again. Next spring, after a long winter’s nap, your plants will be ready to get growing again!