Birds Need a Bathtub, Even in Winter


So one of the four cornerstones of maintaining a backyard wildlife habitat is providing a source of water.  This can be fairly easy throughout the majority of the year, even in the wonderfully temperamental northern Midwest climate we find here in Wisconsin.  But at some point in the year (often much sooner than I would like), the weather decides that anything above 32 degrees Fahrenheit just isn’t going to be possible any more.  And so I (and my feathered friends) wake up to a solid chunk of ice where previously there was a refreshing pool for splashing and drinking.  This tends to get me some very disgruntled looks from my resident goldfinches when they arrive for their breakfast nyjer feed.

They may be tiny, but they travel in packs and I don’t want them mad at me so I saved up the funds and this year I invested in a ‘heated’ bird bath.  I splurged during my local Menards 11% rebate sale and picked up this model, which has the heater internally sealed into the birdbath itself.  You can get birdbath de-icers, which are electrical appliances of a sort that you place in your bird baths and they keep the water just above freezing.  The ones that I was seeing were, price-wise, around $15-25.  As none of my current birdbaths were a ‘safe for winter’ material as is, I would have had to purchase a new birdbath AND the de-icer, so I just decided to cut out the middle man and get the all-in-one unit.  Going forward, as I add birdbaths to my gardens I will make sure that I purchase Wisconsin winter-friendly materials so that the independent de-icers are an option.

There are lots of different models of birdbaths and de-icers out there, I’m by no means endorsing this particular model (it just happened to be on sale), especially since I just purchased it a few weeks ago.  I’ll keep an eye on it over the winter, and assuming that my birds continue to use it regularly and the ice chunks are kept to a minimum, I’m happy.  And so is my goldfinch flock, which means I can safely wander my backyard again.


Picking your battles

It’s probably no surprise that I love watching and feeding the birds at my variety of feeding stations, bird baths, and roosting spots.  Even if I don’t have any ‘new’ visitors for a while (sniff, bye bye summer migrants, sniff), the antics of my resident chickadees and goldfinches are still something I enjoy watching from my windows.  With my variety of voracious visitors, it’s pretty standard for me to have to fill several of my feeders on a daily basis.  My husband thought that we just had that many feathered visitors, so I had to set him straight.  The birds eat a lot, true, but the real culprits eating us out of the (bird)house and home are the squirrels!

Anyone who’s walked through the aisle of a backyard store or bird feeding specialty area knows about the variety of ‘squirrel proofing’ equipment available of purchase.  There are baffles that go below the feeders to keep squirrels from climbing poles.  Cones that go over the top of feeders to stop squirrels from hanging onto the tops of the feeders while attempting a nibble.  Hopper feeders that snap shut when they feel too much weight on them.  Even feeders that spin and (supposedly) fling the squirrels off before they can grab a snack.  Admittedly, I have not tried all of these contraptions, maybe a few of them do work.  But I am of the opinion that there is not anything that is truly squirrel-proof, at best things may be a squirrel-delay (and this video seems to back up that belief).  I’m not inclined to spend a ton of physical and emotional effort fighting what is probably a losing battle.

And so, I may sometimes lament the speed at which my feeders empty, or scold the odd squirrel who stands his/her ground when I am heading out to do my daily refill run, but ultimately I just add watching the level of grace, precision, and strength that the squirrels display while they hang upside-down off of my peanut feeder to the visual feast of all my feathered friends.

But maybe I should by stock in a sunflower seed company, just to benefit from being the neighborhood squirrel dine-in restaurant…

My Backyard Almanac

I’ve never understood the attraction to a smooth, manicured lawn.  To me, wildflowers, knarly oak trees, spreading cedars, all of those ‘unkempt’ vagabonds of the rural landscape always held more appeal.  A sea of green grass, never more than a half inch tall, with not a single dandelion, milkweed, or even goldenrod to be seen just seems like a boring and time-consuming fight against the tide.  Needless to say, I’m not joining a home owners association any time soon…

Add to that the fact that pollinators are disappearing, Monarch butterflies are declining, and (it seems) people’s inability to identify even common wildlife anymore, and you have the genesis of my desire to create a wildlife haven in my moderately-size yard in Madison, Wisconsin.

The National Wildlife Federation says that there are 4 things that are needed for an area to be successful habitat for native wildlife.  Wildlife (birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, etc.) need:

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. Shelter/cover
  4. A place to raise their young

Since a total yard overhaul is outside of my ability and budget to enact in a single year, I’ve been adding a new native plant garden each year for the past 2 years (with a 3rd planned to be installed in May, 2016).  My ultimate goal is to have my ‘mowable’ lawn area decreased by 50% over the 10 years I estimate it will take me to install all of the beds I envision.  I am purchasing native plants (mostly herbaceous at the moment, but I plan to add shrubs and possibly some small trees in the future) and focusing on species that provide at least 1 of the items listed above.  This site is my chance to document this journey and share it with other interested people.  I hope to inspire you to take whatever space you have (whether its a large yard or a window flower box) and enjoy the fruits of giving nature a bit of a leg up.