Holiday help: Ways to help wild birds find food, shelter, & medical care in the winter

How you can support the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre this holiday season PLUS expert tips about feeding & sheltering birds in the winter!

Under your wing: How you can help wild birds survive the winter

Season's Tweetings! Birds fly into your life providing majestic beauty and songs to brighten your day. During the winter months, birds need extra help finding food, shelter, and help when they are hurt. The Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre (OVWBCC) works tirelessly through the winter- and the rest of the year- to take birds under their wing. The OVWBCC team knows that one small act of kindness can help save a bird's life. Patty McLaughlin, Education and Public Engagement Coordinator at OVWBCC, and her team are working hard to raise awareness about the help birds need throughout the winter and I was fortunate enough to get expert tips about how to support the wild bird community this holiday season. I had many questions for Patty. How can you help wild birds survive the harsh winter weather? What do birds need in the winter to help them find food, shelter, and medical care? What can I do at home?

Help support wild birds Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre 2021 calendars

WBU Kanata is selling OVWBCC 2021 calendars

Give a gift and help a bird in need

As members of the community, there are things we can do on our property to support the wild bird population. But the OVWBCC is essential in helping birds in the area, and they need our support. During the summer they received over 700 in May and over 1000 in June, which were record numbers. In November the Centre was able to take in 125 new birds of 35 different species. They rely mostly on donations to provide food, shelter, and medical care to birds in need. They have been fundraising to build a new building dedicated to caring for birds. Helping the OVWBCC will directly impact the life of a wild bird.

Under your wing: Ways to help wild birds find food, shelter, & medical care in the winter

WBU Facemasks available to support OVWBCC

You can make a donation, but guess what? You can also give someone- a bird lover perhaps- a gift that helps support the Centre. OVWBCC has released its 2021 calendar! The calendars are $20 each and 100% of the proceeds go to the Centre. You can purchase the calendar at the following pick-up locations

  • Lynwood Animal Hospital, 30 Stafford Road Unit 107, Nepean, ON
  • Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop, 1500 Bank Street, Ottawa, ON
  • Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop, 420 Hazeldean Rd Unit 11, Kanata, ON
  • Gilligallou Bird Inc., 14 Mill Street #3, Almonte, ON
  • Ritchie's Feed and Seed, 1390 Windmill Lane, Ottawa, ON
  • March Road Pet Food and Grooming, 1112 March Road, Kanata ON

Wild Birds Unlimited's Kanata is selling locally made bird patterned masks with 10% of proceeds going to the OVWBCC. They also just announced they made some decorative metal birds they are selling with proceeds going to the Centre. These are great holiday gift ideas. Give these gifts and give an orphaned or wounded bird a second chance. Now that's the holiday spirit! 

Metal birds available at WBU Kanata

Metal birds available at WBU Kanata 

Sponsor a bird

Did you know you can sponsor a bird through the OVWBCC? They have a variety of different species to choose from. Sponsorship is $100 and you receive an 8x10 photo of your bird, a certificate of sponsorship, and an interesting brochure of information about that bird species. 

"We are just launching our new bird to the Sponsor a Bird program this week," Patty said. "Meet Indigo the American Kestrel, who is our educational ambassador!"

Indigo, the American Kestrel the OVWBCC education ambassador

Indigo, the American Kestrel the OVWBCC educational ambassador 

Check out the list of birds available for sponsorship. This is another great gift idea for the bird lover in your family. 

How to help hungry birds at home

Birds don't have a food bank or soup kitchen to visit, so we have to take on the responsibility of offering the help they need when the weather turns cold. I know some folks are reluctant to leave weeds, leaves, and nature's debris on their lawn, but it supports the local ecosystem. It provides nourishment and shelter for wildlife, birds, and pollinators. 

"Bird's love lazy gardeners. Did you run out of time to rake up all the leaves, didn't cut down the dead stalks in your garden, leave a pile of sticks and weeds in the corner of your yard? The wild birds thank you!" Patty said. 

"There is a large number of dormant insects, eggs, and larva in leaves, plant stalks, and twigs. The dead flower heads have lots of seeds in them too. These become an abundant natural food source for birds during the winter and in early spring," said Patty.

Under your wing: Ways to help wild birds find food, shelter, & medical care in the winter

OVWBCC Sponsor a Bird program

It's also important to stock up your bird feeders during the winter months. During the winter wildlife require more calories to survive. They need to build up an insulating layer of fat and have enough calories for the extra energy they expend. But foraging for food is more difficult, even for birds.

"Natural food sources are scarce during the winter and it's when bird feeders see the most action. Birds are looking for high-fat foods such as nuts, sunflower seeds, and suet, and are not too picky on the style of feeder," Patty said. "There are lots of DIY feeder and suet ideas using recycled materials and it could be a great winter break project for children."

Check out this list of 10 easy to make bird feeders using recycled materials. What about those pesky, seed-stealing squirrels? Patty has a solution for that too! 

Under your wing: Ways to help wild birds find food, shelter, & medical care in the winter

"If you love to feed the birds but your wallet has trouble keeping up with feeding the squirrels, look into offering safflower seeds. They are high-fat seeds that Chickadees, Finches, Cardinals, and more love but squirrels show no interest in these seeds!"

How to provide birds with shelter from storms

It's not just food that birds need during the cold, harsh winter months. Wild birds also seek shelter, and they instinctively look to humans for help.

"Have you ever noticed bird footprints near your BBQ or right against your house? Many birds will look to human structures for shelter as well," Patty said. 

You can help birds during the winter by providing them with spots on your property where they can find safe shelter, especially when the weather gets bad. Birds are resourceful, but like us, they still need shelter from storms and seek 'micro-habitats' to wait out the weather. You can try one of these 15 homemade birdhouses using recycled materials, or one of Patty's ideas to create a shelter. 

Under your wing: Ways to help wild birds find food, shelter, & medical care in the winter

"An open shelter where they can still watch for predators, such as an open box tipped over, a brush pile of sticks, or a mini lean-to, is a welcome finding during a winter storm," Patty advised.

Patty shared a great idea with me about how you can give birds in your community their own Christmas gift. Did you know that your Christmas tree can help the wild bird population? 

"Don't throw your Christmas tree to the curb! If you put up a real tree this year consider 'planting' it in your yard when the holiday is over. It will provide a great place for the birds to seek shelter from the wind and snow during stormy days," said Patty. "Please be sure to take off all decorations, especially tinsel. Planting your tree near- about 10 feet away- from your current feeders may even increase the number of birds coming to your feeder." 


Masks WBU Kanata

Facemasks available at WBU Kanata

The pandemic has made it a tough year for wildlife Centres. Our hope is that the spirit of giving extends into the sky to help save and support our feathered friends.

Visit the Ottawa Valley Wild Brid Care Centre website to learn more about how you can help and visit their Facebook Page for updates on the Centre.

How you can support the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre this holiday season PLUS expert tips about feeding & sheltering birds in the winter!

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