Hunger Moon

Good news for gardeners! Yesterday’s full moon, on the last day of February, means that spring is in sight! New England’s native Americans, who had a name for each full moon as a way of tracking the calendar, called February’s full moon the Snow, or Hunger Moon. This time of year, food must have been tough to come by when you depend upon your natural surroundings to survive.

It’s also the toughest time of year for the birds that spend winters in New England. Many seed plants are buried under snow, and the tastiest berries were eaten months ago from the winterberry hollies, dogwoods and wild cherries. Insect populations are at their lowest, making it tough for woodpeckers and other insectivores to keep themselves going til the bugs of spring start to arrive.

Remember this time of year when you plan your gardens. Some shrubs have berries that taste awful until they have been through a few freeze and thaw cycles, meaning that birds won’t eat them unless they are starving. My Virginia Rose still has most of its berries (hips), but in the past few snowy weeks, I have finally seen birds picking at them. In some years, birds don’t touch our flowering crabapples until late winter, when the cardinals or early arriving cedar waxwings pick them clean. Strangely, in some years these berries disappear well before Christmas…

crabapples

And try to keep as many of your seed plants standing into winter as you can, instead of hacking your perennial beds to the ground in the fall. Especially if you live in an urban area with few natural food sources, your garden’s seed heads poking out of the snow might mean the difference between life or death for some of our hungry feathered friends.

04-07-juncos-seedheads

A Northern Junco picks at the seed heads of Lavender Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) during a snowstorm.

Juncos (aka Snowbirds) breed in northern New England and Canada during the summer, but they migrate south to New England to spend the winter! They are cute but tough little birds that rely on the seeds of goldenrodasters and other native plants to keep them fed all winter.

So look around your yard and ask yourself. Do your local birds have natural food sources to keep them going during the Hunger Moon? Feeders are great for supplementing natural food sources, but they often attract the “wrong kind of birds” and squirrels, and keeping them stocked can get expensive. Invest in some bird-friendly plants and shrubs, and you’ll feed birds, for free, for years to come.

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