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Care for Year-round Birds

When the cooler months are upon us, we can curl up inside with a bowl of stew or chili, but our feathered friends are scratching around for food outside. Birds such as quail, robins, woodpeckers, bluebirds, mockingbirds and thrushes even change their diets as winter draws near, preferring more berries in their meals. During the coldest months of the year, outside food sources can become quickly exhausted, so let's give the birds something to chirp about with these winter food ideas.

Use Native Trees and Shrubs

Many native trees and shrubs produce winter berries that are the perfect natural bird food. Start with a list of plants that are native to your area; common winter-berrying plants include many types of hollies, nandina, nannyberry, sumac, hawthorn and crabapple. Don't use poison sumac, however—this plant is not actually a true sumac. It is more closely related to poison ivy and will be harmful to birds. Additionally, some hollies may need both male and females bushes in order to ensure a crop of berries at all, so be sure to ask when you purchase them. Plan to also incorporate some conifers like pines, junipers and spruces, as these trees provide not only food but also year-round cover, offering birds protection and nesting areas.

Add Nutritious Fruits and Seeds

If you're just beginning to create your bird habitat and it's the middle of winter, try providing birds with some homemade treats until you can add more bird-attracting plants to your garden. Create small suet parcels using mesh bags, and fill them with seeds, grains, nuts, small fruit pieces and corn. Pinecone treats are also easy to make—simply spread natural peanut butter (no sugar added) on pinecones and roll them in birdseed. Larger pieces of food like popcorn and unsweetened "O" cereal can also be strung onto twine or string and hung from trees. Or string fruit like cranberries and pear, apple or orange slices on smaller-gauge fishing line or monofilament—birds in southern regions particularly enjoy this treat.

Provide Fresh Water

If you can provide fresh water in your yard, your birds will love you forever. A simple birdbath will do, but small ponds and water features are excellent choices as well. Make sure the water is clean and fresh. Check your water source every couple of days to ensure you have plenty to keep the birds hydrated, adding more as necessary. Watch out for roaming dogs and cats when your birds are sipping—locate the water source where the birds can see all around them. Add some sticks or smooth rocks over the water to break the water's surface so that birds can sip without having to enter the cold water. If freezing water is a source of frustration in your area, consider purchasing a heated birdbath.

Now you and your feathered friends can enjoy winter.