As fall comes closer, migrating birds will start winging their way south to warmer climates. The first Vs of Canada geese have already split Midwestern skies. Quite a few birds, however, spend their winters in Midwestern and northern states. As unlikely as it seems, among our native winter dwellers will be some birds that have traveled south from their chilly summer habitats in the northern wilds of Canada to spend their winters in the relative warmth of the snowy Midwest.
Birds that winter-over in chilly climates are adept at scavenging seeds from dead winter gardens and hibernating trees. Eventually, though, snow will limit food supplies and birds will be forced to rely on well-stocked bird feeders to make it through the worst days of winter. As you prepare to clear garden beds for the winter consider leaving dead stalks of seed-bearing plants in the garden to provide a food source for birds. Sunflowers (Helianthus) with their large heads stuffed with big black seeds will attract cardinals and a host of other hungry birds if left on the stalk or cut off and placed on the ground or suspended from a tree branch in a cradle of twine. Birds will also light on Echinacea (Echinacea), also known as Coneflower, to pick the delicate seeds from their pods.
Rather than looking untidy or forlorn, leaving a smattering of dead flower stalks in your garden adds interest and texture to the winter landscape. Seed pods and flower stalks also make excellent snowman decorations when snow descends. Use stalks from fall flowering Sedum (Sedum), English Ivy (Hedera) or grasses like Festuca (Festuca) for hair. Dark seed pods from Echinacea (Echinacea) make great snowman eyes and noses. Bend a grass plume from reddish Pennisetum Rubrum (Pennisetum Rubrum) into a smiling mouth or use a big feather of pampas grass to make a silly snowman beard. Finish your creation with stick arms and Hydrangea (Hydrangea) pom buttons.