We know people might use the time off during the holidays to get some yardwork done. But if you love birds like we do and you want to help them this winter, less is more when it comes to backyard chores. Messy is definitely good to provide food and shelter for birds during the cold winter months, according to the Audubon Society. We love these tips for a bird-friendly yard:

Save the seeds. When fall arrives, some tidy-minded gardeners might be inclined to snip the stems of perennials in the flower garden. But the seed heads of coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and other native wildflowers provide a helpful food cache for birds. Grasses—not the stuff you mow, but native species like bluestems or gramas—also make for good foraging after they go to seed. And letting other dead plants stick around can fill your property with protein-packed bird snacks in the form of insect larvae, such as the fly and wasp larvae that inhabit goldenrod galls.

Leave the leaves. Leaves are important because they rot and enrich the soil, and also provide places for bugs and birds to forage for food. If a fully hands-off approach doesn’t work for your yard, consider composting some leaves and letting the rest be. You could also rake them from the lawn to your garden beds, or mulch them with a mower to nourish your lawn. Leaf litter isn’t just free fertilizer—it’s also a pretty happening patch of habitat for a variety of critters such as salamanders, snails, worms, and toads. A healthy layer of undisturbed soil and leaf litter means more moths, which in their caterpillar phase are a crucial food source for birds. 

Build a brush pile. Use fallen branches to build a brush pile that will shelter birds from lousy weather and predators. Rabbits, snakes, and other wildlife also will take refuge there. (And it’s a great place to dispose of your Christmas tree.)

Skip the chemicals. You might see your neighbors spreading “weed and feed” mixtures in the fall to fertilize their lawns and knock back crabgrass and other unwanted plants. In most cases, though, grass clippings and mulched leaf litter provide plenty of plant nutrition, and using store-bought fertilizers only encourages more non-native plants to grow. Generally speaking, native grasses, shrubs, trees, and flowering plants don’t need chemical inputs. Save a few bucks and keep your yard healthy for bugs and birds.

Hit the nursery. Plant native shrubs and trees. (Cooler temperatures also make fall a more comfortable time to tear out some turf grass and expand your native plant garden.) Native dogwoods, hawthorns, sumacs, and other flowering shrubs produce small fruits that not only feed birds during the colder months, but can also provide a welcome pop of color when winter gets drab. Planted in the right place, evergreens like cedars and firs give birds something to eat and a cozy shelter. Fall is also a great time to liven up your property with late-blooming perennials such as asters or sages—and to buy spring- and summer-blooming wildflowers at a substantial discount.

You can also keep birds happy by leaving a healthy snack out for them. Here’s our vegan suet recipe:

2 cups shelled, unsalted peanuts

½ cup raisins

2 – 3 Tablespoons cornmeal

Process peanuts in a food processor until the consistency of peanut butter. Add the raisins and process another minute. Then add cornmeal and process again. Press this mixture into a mold of your choice.

To find native species suited to your yard, just enter your ZIP code in Audubon’s native plants database. If you plant trees or shrubs this fall, they might not bear fruit this year—but come next winter, you and your backyard birds will be glad you did.