Bring it to Barb


This week’s question:

Dear Barb,

During the hard wintertime I think about the birds and how they manage to survive the winter. Do you have any tips that are inexpensive for food for the birds? What is the actual mortality rate for birds? 

Signed, Loyal to My Feathered Friends

Dear Loyal,

Each year when December and January roll around, thoughts of the challenges to outside creatures come to mind. When you see rain, wind and snow, you wonder how they manage to endure conditions until spring. 

There are many inexpensive ways that we, their human friends, can do a great deal to help them cope. Bird feeders are the obvious, but one trick is to use left-over hanging baskets to instantly become feeders. Take the bottom saucer and simply put it on top of the planter and fill it with seed (black oil sunflower seed is a perennial favorite).

One couple creatively took fallen tree limbs and a large, old branch that had fallen from one of their backyard trees and set up a metal fence post next to it, attaching the branch to the post with sturdy wire so that it appeared to stand upright on its own. They then added peanut butter in several holes that the branch already had and on other branches they hung a few different style feeders. It instantly became a popular feeder tree with birds feeding by the dozens. This would be a fun family project bringing delight to young children to participate and enjoy watching. And you’re also gathering and cleaning up branches, which helps make it more fun. 

Water is another commodity that is precious in the winter to our feathered friends. Place a birdbath by your dryer vent, above so warm air keeps it from freezing. Another idea is to place the water bath just outside a window to easily retrieve and replenish it when frozen. No bundling up to go outside!

My favorite way to feed them in the winter is with suet squares. They are like energy bars in a metal frame and aren’t too messy, plus they last a long time. 

The mortality rate is staggering for birds. The leading, most significant cause of bird deaths is habitat destruction! Due to cities and towns and homeowners removing trees and shrubs where wildlife used to find food and shelter, these changes have made survival more difficult for birds in the U.S. and Canada.

The second is window strikes! They are estimated to kill 976 million birds per year. A bird will see the natural habitat mirrored in the glass and fly directly into the window, causing injury and, in 50 percent or more of the cases, death. Approximately 24 birds are expected to die annually at a single skyscraper. 

There are simple steps you can take to reduce the number of birds striking windows in your home. Decals that stick to the glass are not very effective, but decorative features like stained glass designs or window dividers can achieve the same result. Outside screens are very effective both to reduce the reflection and to cushion the impact. In short, anything that reduces or breaks up the window’s reflection will reduce bird strikes. One tip would be to place any feeders next to the window no more than two feet away (so birds don’t get up to flight speed before hitting the window) or at least 30 feet away (having time to get up to speed). 

A bird feeding program at home, school, a hospital, or a retirement home can add so much personal enjoyment and a sense of well-being. Appreciation for nature and paying attention to anything other than ourselves is very healthy. Hang up your birdfeeders and put out your water baths today and it might be contagious to others who will follow your leadership. 

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and author in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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  1. Hi Barb Jim Henderson here I was sitting in the barbers shop and picked up the Tacoma weekly and stumbled on to your Bring it to Barb . Proud to know you and see you are doing so well, I also get your face book page ,which is nice to see in lost wages wish I could be there in the sun. Just a note to say HI. JIM H.

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