How to Prepare for
Winter Bird Feeding in 8 Steps

How to prepare for winter bird feeding in 8 steps will help to bring success to your backyard birding efforts during the coldest time of year.

(Number 1 of "How to Prepare for Winter Bird Feeding in 8 Steps.")

1. Tips on Why You Should NOT Clean Up Your Garden in Autumn!

At least not all of it:

  1. If you have plants, trees or bushes in your yard that need pruning wait until late spring instead of doing it in the fall. That alone will help your winter birds. (More on this further down.)
  1. Rake your leaves onto your gardens. It is better for your grass not to be covered in leaves for the winter as leaves can cause your grass to develop disease if left on it all winter. But your gardens are a different story. Your garden plants will benefit from the added protection against the cold that your leaves will provide. And so will bugs. Which are a very beneficial food source to birdlife. Most birds including seed eaters and even nectar lovers like Hummingbirds need to eat protein rich bugs. 
  1. And yes, I did say leave your pruning to late spring if you can. This will give wild birds returning from their spring migration journey an opportunity to eat up seeds which were left from the autumn crop. The birds will also gratefully munch on the bugs coming to life from their winter shelter among your dead plant matter.

(I’m not a gardening expert but I did hear these gardening tips from one.) ;)





(Number 2 of "How to Prepare for Winter Bird Feeding in 8 Steps.")

2.  5 Best Winter Bird Foods?

It would be so convenient if there was “one-seed-fits-all-birds”, but there isn’t.

Black-oil sunflower seed is close though. This nutritious oily seed is enjoyed and loved by many wild birds.

Including Blackbirds, Starlings and Jays. Now the Jays are beautiful birds and you will likely want to see them from time to time.

But if you place your black-oil sunflower in a chalet, hopper or fly-thru/platform/table feeder you may have these birds visiting often and likely until your feeder is empty.

Plus, if you were to only use one type of seed or even mixed seed in the type of feeders mentioned above you would miss out on attracting and enjoying some unique and interesting birds.

Many researchers including the Cornell Labratory of Ornithology have discovered that using a mixed seed blend will likely result in a good deal of waste. Many birds may eat different types of seed but often black-oil sunflower seed is a favourite. This results in a lot of "shovelling" of the least liked seed onto the ground until a black-oil sunflower seed is found.

I have also experienced Woodpeckers hanging onto my hopper style feeder pushing all the seed over the edge with their large beak until a peanut is discovered. Then gobbling this delightful morsel and returning again to discard all the other seeds until another peanut is found.

If times were tough with natural food sources being scarce and the offering was only a mixed seed without peanuts they may be grateful to accept the other seed. But this is only a guess, I haven't had that particular situation arise to test the theory out.

As a result of watching this behaviour in my early days of bird feeding, I now only offer mixed seed in a cake when it is held together usually by gelatin. All other feeders in my yard offer one type of food. This results in far less waste and happy grazing by my birdlife.

So what are the five best (but not only winter food) for winter bird feeding.


  1. Suet is a very important food for helping birds produce heat to keep warm during the very long nights of winter time. This meal comprised largely of fat is hard to beat. Lots of energy for foraging and keeping warm. Many food items can be added to increase the attraction and nutrition
  1. Black-oil sunflower seed is also a nutrient rich, fatty food that will also be gratefully received by many birds.
  1. Nyjer seed is also a great food for winter feeding because it too is an oily seed. It will keep Gold Finches and other birds with small bills like Titmouse, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and of course Chickadees (if the black oil sunflower seed runs out) coming back for a good meal).
  1. Peanuts in a shell and shelled. A peanut in the shell feeder is one of my favourite feeders. All types of Woodpeckers and Nuthatches spend many happy hours each day hanging on while they perform their amazing surgery on the peanuts in the shell. It never ceases to amaze me how they can poke what seems a very small hole in each lobe of the shell and remove the meat.
  1. Dried whole-kernel corn is another seed that you can offer for Jays, Pigeons, Doves, Quail and Pheasants if you live in a rural area for the last two. Cracked corn will be well received because of its smaller size by Finches, Sparrows and Blackbirds. It also offers a high fat content for producing body warmth and is cheap to purchase.



(Number 3 of "How to Prepare for Winter Bird Feeding in 8 Steps.")

3. What Type of Feeders Work Best for Winter Bird Feeding?

Some types of bird food in the list above require special feeders, let’s sort this out.

What is the Solution, Use a Variety of Feeders:

  1. Fly-thru/platform/table feeders (another of my favourites) are the best style of feeders for attracting a wide variety of wild birds. In addition, they are basically just a flat surface, sometimes with a roof, which makes viewing the birds easy. A fly-thru feeder is the only type of feeder that I will fill with mixed seed, as this gives all the different types of food in a mixed seed a chance to be eaten.
  1. Gazebo/hopper/chalet feeders are good feeders to attract a variety of birds. But if you fill it with a mixed seed birds will sit, on the perch or trough and shovel seed over the edge until they find the ones they want.

Another problem with the 2 feeders above is as mentioned earlier, they can attract the “bully” type birds, making it very difficult for the smaller birds to feed in peace. 

If you only fill your hopper style feeders with black-oil sunflower and use the table style feeders for mixed seed, corn and scraps, then more peace will reign in your backyard.

  1. Use tube feeders for sunflower seeds. A tube feeder with very short perches will work best making it very difficult for larger birds to sit while eating.
  1. Add a suet feeder and you will undoubtedly attract many members of the Woodpecker family and likely more than one type. You are likely to see more than one type of Nuthatch too. What variety of Woodpeckers and Nuthatches you see is dependent on where you live. Many other birds will also enjoy suet and therefore benefit from this energy rich source.


  1. A nyjer/thistle feeder will brighten up your view with lots of Gold Finches (brighter view as the spring moves in when the males grow their summer plumage). Thistle is their most favourite food. Other types of Finches and of course Chickadees will eat from this feeder too.
  1. Ground bird feeder for the Sparrows, Juncos and Mourning Doves. One with a roof will assist by keeping the seed freer of snow and ice.


(Number 4 of "How to Prepare for Winter Bird Feeding in 8 Steps.")

4. List of Winter Shelters for Wild Birds?

winter shelters for wild birds

What do birds do to stay warm during the long nights of winter?

The days are short and usually a little warmer especially if the sun is shining. Wild birds will be busy during these shortened hours of daylight filling up with as much food as they can. 

The amount and type of food they eat all day will be an important factor in how well they survive during the longer winter night hours.

The second necessary element they need to survive the freezing nights after eating high energy food is a sheltered place to spend the dark hours until sunlight returns.

  1. Densely branched shrubs and coniferous trees.
  1. Even old nests will be taken advantage of as a place to roost over night.
  1. Wild birds are opportunists taking advantage of whatever is at hand.



(Number 5 of "How to Prepare for Winter Bird Feeding in 8 Steps.")

5. Why Provide a Heated Bird Bath?

Heated bird baths provide accessible water during freezing temperatures. This is a well appreciated luxury because:

  1. Birds will eat snow to keep from dehydrating during winter months in areas where temperatures drop below freezing. Eating snow means their bodies must work much harder to keep warm and not be consumed by cold.
  1. When any creature requires more energy for an activity then it also increases their need for more food. So wild birds need to find more food to eat if there is no water available to drink and their only option is snow.
  1. The last reason is you will also delight in watching your feathered friends drinking and sometimes bathing at your heated bird bath.


(Number 6 of "How to Prepare for Winter Bird Feeding in 8 Steps.")

6. Where You Need to Place Bird Feeders, Bird Houses & Heated Bird Baths?

When placing your bird feeders, heated bird baths and roosting accommodations in your outdoor space here are some things to consider.

Think about their accessibility for maintaining them, refilling and cleaning:

  • If you should need to replace the rope or chain which is suspending your feeders, then you will want to be able to easily access it.
  • Can you reach your feeders if they need freeing from ice and snow.
  • How much snow will you have to shovel to reach your feeders or heated bird bath.
  • Will the electrical cord extension you are using with the heated bird bath reach the location you want to set it up?
  • Place feeders, sleeping accommodation and baths 10 – 20 feet from one another to allow birds comfort space. No one wants to sleep too close to a public dining room. ;)


(Number 7 of "How to Prepare for Winter Bird Feeding in 8 Steps.")

7. More Tips for Successful Winter Bird Feeding

  1. It is critical to choose feeders that are sturdy enough for use in the winter especially if your weather includes blowing ice and snow.

The last thing you want to see when you look out your window is parts of your bird feeder swaying in the wind and the rest on the ground in a pile of bird seed.

Why Keeping Bird Feeders Clean in Winter is Also Important?

Maintaining bird feeders properly in winter is also very important.

Cleanliness is necessary for wild birds survival.

We have lured them in with our offerings and where many birds hang out so does bacteria abound with disease following in short order.

Fortunately, it is less concerning during cold temperatures, but wild birds can still pick-up disease in winter.

  • Whatever types or styles of bird feeders you hang in your backyard start with clean feeders. You can conveniently use wet wipes to clean off the perches and feeding ports of your feeders. This will keep them safe for your feathered friends in-between washings.
  • Seed that sits too long in the bottom and corners of your feeders are also fertile beds for disease and mold. Just clean out the seed that is left in the bottom of your feeders on a regular basis before re-filling. This will prevent build-up of rancid, moldy seed which could make your birds sick.
  • Autumn is the best time to perform repairs to your feeders. Safeguarding too that your feeders are hung and mounted securely so they are not blown down during winter storms.


(Number 8 of "How to Prepare for Winter Bird Feeding in 8 Steps.")

8.  Plan Now for Next Year

Preparing for good winter bird feeding means planning ahead. In spring consider native trees, shrubs and plants which feed birds with their many different parts.

A large or small tree or plants that produce fruits, seeds, catkins, buds, or other plant parts that grow food birds will eat.

These natural sources of food may often remain available well into the cold months of winter and even into spring.

How to prepare for winter bird feeding in 8 steps will make your bird watching more enjoyable if you give thought as you plan changes to your outdoor space throughout the year. 






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Bird Feeding Through the Seasons

  • Spring Bird Feeding An exciting time when wild birds return to their northern breeding grounds after their long migration.
  • Summer Bird Feeding A very rewarding season to feed and house wild birds. There is such a variety of bird life and feathered family activity to enjoy.
  • Autumn Bird Feeding Some people think that bird feeding in the autumn is not a good idea. They mistakenly believe that their feeders will keep the birds from migrating. Find out the truth.
  • Winter Bird Feeding Bird watching in the winter months provides many rewards for us. We can’t help ourselves from wanting to assist them by putting out a bird feeder.
  • Where are they in Winter? A question often asked is answered: "I have been getting more birds each summer, but why do they still completely disappear each winter?"


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