Bird-Friendly Garden Tips from Garden Plot’s Mike McGrath

Mike McGrath, well known in the DC area as WTOP-FM’s garden editor, whose witty “Garden Plot” segments liven up the weekend, will be on the Capital Remodel + Garden Show’s Main Stage on Saturday February 22 and Sunday, February 23.  


While spring is right around the corner, Mike says our feathered friends still need a little help in the garden before the weather takes a turn for the better. Mike offers some wonderful tips that will bring great activity and color to a garden in the most natural way. Consider the following to help take care of the natural birds in late winter gardens: 

This weather is for the birds! Yes, the birds that spend the winter in our region do have many physical abilities that help them survive — they isolate the blood supply in their legs so it doesn’t chill the rest of their body; by keeping their feathers clean, they create an insulating blanket of warm air next to their body; they snuggle up with others of their species; and their high metabolism helps keep them warm.


Rendered beef fat — yum! Although feeding wild birds in the spring and summer can have negative consequences, feeding them during the cold days and nights of late fall and winter is good for the birds, and your garden, if you provide the right kind of food, and in a word, that’s suet.

In its most basic form, suet is a square cake of rendered beef fat, sized to fit into standard suet holders — metal cages that swing open to receive the suet cake and then snap shut to hold it in place. The cages can be nailed to a tree or hung from branches or shepherds’ hooks.


Suet now means fewer pests next summer. Suet feeders, however, pose no such problems; in fact, they have a wonderful and unexpected side benefit. By placing lots of these feeders around your landscape, you’ll attract the best of the pest-eating birds, like chickadees, wrens, swallows, vireos and woodpeckers — just to name a few of the birds whose spring and summer diet consists of 85 percent or more of insect pests.

Suet cakes are the perfect winter substitute for those bad bugs, so hang lots of ‘em around your plants. Then stop refilling them when spring bulbs appear. The birds will not go away; they’re already nesting and raising a family at your place and will quickly turn their attention to eating your awakening insect foes.


The right stuff. Feed the right birds with the right food now and those birds will make nests, lay their eggs and feed their hungry little babies with your garden pests in the spring and summer.

The right food is suet — available wherever any kind of bird food is sold. There are many “flavors” out there (some cakes have added nuts, dried fruits and the like), so look at the ingredient list. You want the cakes with the highest amounts of fat and protein.


Stale bread is for stuffing, not birds. Whatever you do, do not feed stale (or fresh) bread to your birds. Yes, they will eagerly eat it. And yes, it will quickly fill them up. But it is essentially devoid of the fat and protein they need to make it through winter. Feeding nothing at all is much better for your birds than feeding them bread.

Get more garden and outdoor living advice when you see Mike at the Capital Remodel + Garden Show. Pick up your tickets today and start planning your visit. We can’t wait to see you at the Dulles Expo Center.
Feb 11, 2020, 02:23 AM