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Gardening in Gwinnett: Attract birds to your yard in winter

Many people travel thousands of miles to search for rare and elusive avian species inhabiting the frigid tundra of Alaska or the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica. During the dead of winter, birds are sometimes hard-pressed to find food in certain areas.

However, one does not need to go to these places in order to observe diverse species of birds; the backyard garden can attract a multitude of them.

Birds need food, shelter and water throughout the year, even more so during the cold days of winter. Most birds feed on seeds, small berries, insects and, in the case of water fowl, fish. If birds are able to find their basic needs in your yard, you will be in for some entertainment. Plants that have berries, nuts or fruits will be attractive to them. Evergreen trees and shrubs provide a welcome source of shelter.

Birdfeeders are great, but the plants in your yard can be just as attractive. Providing a diverse cluster of plants, especially native plants, can attract birds of many species. Birds love small trees such as dogwood, sourwood, sparkleberry and redbud, while shrubs like blueberries, viburnums and hollies produce and abundance of seeds and berries. Vines like yellow jessamine, Virginia creeper, and clematis provide shelter for birds to nest and forage. The ruby-throated hummingbird loves the orange and red flowers of the trumpet creeper vine and coral honeysuckle.

Birds do not like to be out in the open, but prefer to be in areas that offer cover. The various types of plants in the landscape can provide some protection and security.

Birdfeeders can provide an additional source of food to birds, particularly during the winter months when it might be in short supply in some areas. Seed is healthier for birds in a feeder than it is on the ground, where it can rot. The feeders come in many varieties. Some are small and hang from a wire, while others are larger and mounted on steel or wooden poles.

Suet is simply animal fat mixed with nuts, raisins, peanut butter and dried fruit. Suets have high calories that provide high energy for the birds, especially during the colder weather. You can also put cut-up fresh fruit, raisins, and nuts on the platform feeders.

Often, squirrels will raid the birdfeeder to feast on the free meal. That's why several feeders are made to be squirrel proof, with a squirrel baffle that prevents them from climbing on. Also, you may want to supply the squirrels with some food to their liking in another part of your yard to divert them from your feeder.

Birds need a source of water, even during winter months. Bird baths are an excellent source of drinking water and a place for them to wash off. Bird baths come in every imaginable size, shape and cost, so pick the one that suits your taste.

Make sure you change the water every few days, and during the warmer weather, drop a few mosquito dunk tablets in it to control any breeding mosquitoes. Pans and other containers on the ground can also be a source of water as can ornamental goldfish ponds.

The birds that like to build nests in birdhouses usually build ones naturally inside the cavities oif trees. Such birds are bluebirds, wrens, sparrows, finches and woodpeckers.

The species that will that will build a nest your birdhouse is partly determined by the type of habitat your yard provides.

Multiple trees with dense shrubs in your yard and surrounding area will attract the forest-loving birds while open expansive fields will attract birds that prefer those types of habitats.

Many species are territorial and will not tolerate other birds.

Others tolerate different species in their territory, while still others prefer to have many types of their own kind around them, like purple martins and tree swallows. Learn the types of habitats that each species of birds that visit your yard prefer. You can put up a several birdhouses for different types of birds.

With some understanding of the habitats of birds, and the various species that visit your yard, you can be thoroughly entertained by them.

Timothy Daly, MS, is an Agricultural and Natural resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.