Where Do My Birds Go In Winter?

Could this female Cardinal be waiting for you to clean the ice off the feeder?

Question 1. No Birds At My Feeder!

From Jill in Lakeland, MN

Where do my birds go in winter?

I have been improving my bird feeding area each year and I have been getting more birds each summer, but they still completely disappear each winter.

Shouldn't this be the opposite?

I have a thistle sock, black sunflower seed and now a safflower feeder. I have homemade suet and a heated birdbath.

I have many huge red pines that are somewhat stick-like until the top and a variety of vegetation in our woods-like far backyard.

We have lots of grassy areas also.

I have been on the lookout for predators, but I don't see anything.

My mom has almost the same set up, and she is covered in birds! I live in an outer suburban ring area about a ½ mile (as the crow flies) from a large river that does have some open water.

Maybe they are going there?

I also live in Minnesota where it has been extremely cold, so I thought they would really need me this year.

Please give me some advice and thank you!


Question  2. How Do I Attract Birds To My Feeder?

From Anonymous

We just moved to a new house where the past owners did not feed birds. We've had seed and suet balls out for 2 months now and not one bird has come by... is it just a question of waiting or is there something we can do to encourage them?

From Monique Dundas, Ontario, Canada

I hung up a bird feeder at the beginning of November and I have never seen any birds using it yet. How do I attract birds to my feeder?

Do these questions sound familiar?

Hi Everyone

Yes, I hear these questions all the time!

It is frustrating especially when people traditionally only fed the birds in the winter thinking the wild birds did not need the help in summer.

So you would expect them to be frequent visitors in the winter.

After all the weather is cold requiring more energy to keep warm and food is far more difficult to find. Naturally one would think the birds would desperately need our offerings and come readily.

Let's talk about some of the reasons that prevent this expectation from becoming reality.

7 Ways To Attract Wild Birds To Your Feeders:

  • Are your feeders out in the open or close enough to a tree which might provide a refuge in case of a predator? The birds will need some kind of cover to flee to in case of danger 5 to 10 feet from your feeder. The birds will also use this perching area to scan the area for danger first before they go to the feeder. 

  • Another reason for not having any birds could be related to your proximity to a large body of water or open field. Some birds of prey hunt near water and open areas where they can see their target better. There could be birds of prey hunting in the area scaring off the small songbirds. Birds of prey make places for the small birds to hide a necessity.


  • One more reason to provide a place for the birds to shelter is cold or severe weather. It is important for the birds to have a place to roost at night that is sheltered from the wind and where their body heat can build up somewhat to conserve heat and stay warm. They will also need this refuge during the day if the weather is very bad. You could put out a roosting box for your small song birds. If shelter is available close by then they will have one more reason to stay near to your feeders.


  • Not having wild birds at your feeders could also be because there are no other feeding stations in the area. Wild birds are foragers and like to move from one source of food to another. If you live in an area where other households are feeding the birds too, then the birds will travel through, feeding from one station to another. If you do not have neighbours nearby, then your birds would have to travel further to find another feeding location. To rectify this problem, it may be helpful if you set up one feeding area in your front yard and one in your backyard providing two feeding stations. Of course they use natural feeding spots too but by providing a couple yourself will help to keep them close
  • You will also need to look at the quality of the seed you are using. Because a wild bird’s energy reserve is crucial in the winter they will not hang around a feeding station where the seed shells are mostly empty or the seed inside is undeveloped and too small. They cannot afford to spend their daylight hours and energy reserves consuming poor quality food. hey will locate a source that provides the energy they require.

Just a quick mention too about safflower seed, Cardinals and a few other birds enjoy it, but most wild birds do not. (It is a great seed to put out to get rid of Blackbirds and Starlings and keep the Cardinals.) Mixing safflower seed with black oil sunflower seed and shelled peanuts will help attract a larger variety of birds.

Wild Birds Are Not Fond Of Some Changes

Another question to ask yourself is...

  • Have you made any significant changes to your yard as the season changes? Wild birds are creatures of habit and will be cautious to come to a yard that has changed. This will be true any time of year. Make changes slowly to your yard. If you want to place something close to your feeding area, do it in increments so the birds have time to become accustomed to the object.
  • Above all, be persistent, don’t give up! Your winter birds may likely be entirely different from the ones who hang out in your yard in the summer. They will likely be from farther north and decide that your yard looks like a good place to stay for the winter. It may even take some time before you will attract and keep a group of birds for each season. But once they feel secure about their location in your yard you won't be asking again: 

Where do my birds go in winter?

Don’t give up!

Hope this helps!


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.

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