Birds are the only wildlife that Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations allow homeowners to feed in the winter. It’s not a good idea to feed birds year-round as you train them to rely on humans (you) for their food instead of foraging on their own, plus feeding can be an easy way for diseases to spread. If you aren’t able to continue feeding them or you are on vacation for any length of time, they may struggle to find food. If there aren’t any plants nearby, they must fly around until they can locate some food. An alternative to feeding birds is to plant shrubs, perennials and other plants that provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife
If you do decide to feed birds over the winter, you need to do it in a manner that prevents other mammals from coming around for an easy food supply. Smaller mammals such as rats, mice, skunks, squirrels and raccoons may take advantage of the buffet dropped by the birds. Larger mammals such as coyotes, foxes and bears can also be attracted to your bird feeder and any remnants that the birds do not eat. Finding an easy food supply in your yard can cause them to lose their fear of humans and then they are more likely to get into conflicts with humans. Make sure that you are daily cleaning up any dropped seed that the birds do not utilize. Placing the bird feeder over a hard surface that can be swept or a basin that can be emptied makes the cleanup easier. What type of food you use is based on the bird species you have in your area and the birds you want to attract. There are several local bird centers and local Audubon chapters that can help you figure out a feed that attracts bird species that you want.
Ornamental grasses especially native grasses provide not only seeds for the birds but hiding places for insects that are another source of food for birds and shelter. In the spring the grasses provide an added bonus of nest building materials. Prairie birds are most often ground nesting, so the grasses and shrubs provide nesting locations. Don’t cut the grasses down in the fall but leave them for winter interest and for wildlife. Native grasses that you can use are switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), big and little bluestem (Andropogon gerardii and Schizachyrium scoparium), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides) and prairie sandreed (Calamovilfa longifolia). Later in the winter or early spring, you can cut down the grasses before the grasses begin to grow.
Shrubs both deciduous and conifers provide food, nesting locations and shelter for birds. Conifers such as junipers both shrub and tree provide berries and shelter as do pines, spruces and firs which also provide seeds.
Here are some trees, shrubs and perennials you might consider adding to your landscape. They not only provide food and shelter for birds and wildlife but also provide winter interest in your landscape.
• Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)
• Snowberries (Symphoricarpos spp.)
• Sumacs (Rhus spp.)
• Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.)
• Native plum (Prunus spp.)
• Wax currant (Ribes spp.)
• Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
• Mahonia (Mahonia spp.)
• Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.)
• Four wing saltbush (Atriplex canescens)
• Wood’s rose (Rosa spp.)
• Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
• Oak (Quercus spp.)
• Crabapple (Malus pumila)
• Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
• Spruce (Picea spp.)
• Firs (Abies spp.)
• Pines (Pinus spp.)
• Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum)
• Sunflowers (both annual species and perennial species such as Maximillian, Helianthus spp.)
• Coneflower (Rudbeckia spp.)
• Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
• Goldenrod (Oreochrysum spp.)
• Blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.)
• Gayfeather (Liatris spp.)
By Sharon Bokan, Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. Sharon is the Small Acreage Coordinator at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information, call 303.678.6176, e-mail [email protected] or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.