By this time of year fall yard clean up is well underway. Many people are spending their weekends cleaning out their gardens of perennials that have succumbed to the cooler temperatures. Before you go cutting, bagging, and bundling everything, stop and think about our feathered friends. Lots of things in your yard can be more beneficial to birds than to the inside of a brown paper bag. Look at what you are about to cut back and see if any of it has produced seeds. Coneflowers and Sedum are examples of common garden plants that birds, especially Goldfinches will feed on in the fall and throughout winter once they’ve gone to seed. By leaving these natural foods for the birds, you are making your yard more attractive to them than your neighbours. I like to leave my Coneflowers, Sedums, and some grasses because not only do they provide food, but the dead stalks and stems also provide excellent nesting material come spring. These can then be cut back and bagged in the spring for collection when the new growth appears.
Dead branches are another thing to consider leaving in your yard, provided they are not at risk of falling and injuring people, or damaging property. Larger birds such as Mourning Doves prefer a dead limb to a live one as a perch, because there is more room for them to land. You will notice this more when the leaves are still on the trees. Dead braches also slowly decay which attracts insects and in return birds. Woodpeckers, and Nuthatches can quite often be seen looking for insects on dead branches. These same dead branches make it easier for birds that excavate a nest site to do so.
Many people put their bird baths away in their sheds at the same time as they do their patio furniture. Consider leaving your birdbath out right up until it freezes. Birds, like all living things require water, and a decent source will attract more birds than food. Moving water is recognized as fresh by birds, so if you have a pond, waterfall, or other type of water feature think about leaving the pump running. If you are serious about providing water for the birds year round, birdbath heaters are available at your local birding shop.
Hopefully this fall you will reconsider some of your old habits when cleaning up your yard and preparing for winter. Some simple practices can make the life of a bird a little easier. When you are all finished sit back and these peaceful little creatures will be the reward for all your hard work.