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In this issue: learn about how birds survive the winter, stories of stories and our latest featured site
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The Dirt: News from YardMap
Joining together to break new ground for birds

Early Winter 2015

Common Redpoll on Milkweed
Common Redpoll on milkweed in winter. Bill McMullen via Flickr Birdshare

Winter Bird Survival

The dark days of winter are upon us in the Northern Hemisphere. By the time Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year, most birds have migrated to their winter locations, following their food sources. In northern latitudes, year-round residents continue to forage, even on the coldest winter days. Do you ever ask yourself, how do they survive?

Birds have evolved over thousands of years to survive seasonal changes. Keeping warm is a high priority. Access to quality, sheltered roosting sites, such as in large conifers, means birds have places to hunker down for long storms. In the winter, birds often roost early, before the sun sets, anticipating that temperatures will drop quickly. They frequently will puff out their plumage while roosting, creating heat pockets in their down-covered bodies. Titmice, chickadees, and bluebirds seek shelter in the holes of trees--sometimes old woodpecker nesting cavities. Goldfinches and redpolls grow extra feathers in the winter, increasing their insulation. And all birds who experience colder than normal temperatures can shiver. Black-capped Chickadees normally maintain a temperature of 107.6°F, but if temperatures drop below 32°F, they are adapted to shift their body temperature to around 86°F and shiver through the night to survive. Many birds, including chickadees and hummingbirds, can enter a state of torpor in which their respiration and other body processes are slowed, conserving energy until they can forage for their next meal.

Keeping warm takes a lot of energy (a chickadee can lose up to 25 percent of its body weight in a single cold night) and finding enough food in northern latitudes during winter is tricky business. Survival is often dictated by the availability of native habitat. Native flowers such as cockscomb, aster, purple coneflower, sunflower, daisy, goldenrod, tall marigold, and zinnia, develop seed-rich flower heads with supportive stalks that can withstand early snow storms. For larger-billed birds such as woodpeckers, jays, juncos, and sparrows--native pine, spruce, and fir provide power-packed seeds buried beneath the cone scales.

Birds are survivors. In the presence of native habitat, they have numerous adaptations to maximize their survival. So the number one thing you can do to protect birds in the winter? Preserve or plant native habitat and work to encourage your community to follow suit.  

Reference: Roth, Sally. (2009) Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season. Rodale Publishing

PDF of image is available on YardMap webpage.  Click the image to view.

The Story of Stories

More than 5,000 people have downloaded our story of stories poster explaining the ecological importance that forest and vegetational stories play in our native habitat. When landscaping our yards, it is important to make sure you are creating overstory, midstory and understory habitat for bird populations.

Our featured site from the last eNewsletter was an excellent example of "story landscaping." See Mary Dunn's property for ideas about how to incorporate stories into your next project.
Blue Jay in winter. Photo by Jacqui via Flickr Birdshare

Top 5 things you can do at home
for birds in the winter:

1. Next spring or fall, plant native conifers and flowering plants that can withstand the snow while providing shelter and/or a food source.
2. Forget fall garden cleanup! Leave your native flowers in the garden without deadheading or pulling them out.
3. Dead snag trees with cavities should be left standing to provide shelter for birds, but only if they are not a direct threat to buildings or people.
4. Keep nest boxes up year round; some birds may use them to stay warm.
5. If you have feeders and bird baths, brush snow off the feeders as soon as possible during a heavy snowstorm and keep unfrozen fresh water available.*

Start planning for next projects now using
YardMap resources!

* Though many people enjoy feeding birds, planting and maintaining native habitat in and around your home and community is still the best choice for bird conservation.

Berger Family Landscape
Kane, IL

Tree frog in front yard.
Photo by Jeremy Berger

Suburban housing developments are common around the United States. Living in these communities often comes with rules and regulations. Jeremy Berger in Kane, Illinois, has given his housing development a new definition of beautiful yard. Though the vast majority of his neighbors landscape primarily with lawn, Jeremy and his family have ventured into more sustainable landscaping. They have planted nearly 100 different native plants and each year the size of their lawn shrinks. Read more.

YardMap Featured Sites Page

Dreaming of being a featured site?

As winter moves in and many gardens are put to bed, you might be hungry for innovative ideas for your next bird-friendly landscaping project. We have nearly a dozen featured sites from homeowners all over the U.S. who have shared their insights on creating bird-friendly habitats. Sit back with your steaming cup of tea or coffee and be inspired this winter. Consider nominating your own property as a featured site by clicking here.

Tell us what interests you!

What topics would you like to see more of in our newsletter?
Birds
Native Plants
DIY Projects
Garden Inspiration
Sustainability
Photo: Vox Efx via Flickr
Creative Commons

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at http://www.birds.cornell.edu.

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