Bird Food for Winter: Simple Winter Foods for Your Birds

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A little preparation will help to make your backyard birding efforts successful during the coldest time of year.

Are You Asking How To Feed Birds in Winter?

Why You Should NOT Clean Up Your Garden in Autumn

At least not all of it!

  • If you have plants, trees, or bushes in your yard that need pruning, wait until late spring instead of doing it in the fall. This will give wild birds returning from their spring migration journey an opportunity to eat up leftover seeds 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.
  • Rake your leaves in your garden. Don’t cover your grass in leaves for the winter. Leaving leaves on your grass all winter can cause your grass to develop diseases, but your gardens are a different story. Your garden plants will benefit from the added protection against the cold that your leaves will provide. So will bugs, a very beneficial natural food source for many bird species. Most birds, including seed eaters and even nectar lovers like hummingbirds, need to eat protein-rich bugs.

What Are the Best Winter Bird Foods?

  • Suetis a very important food for helping backyard birds produce heat to keep warm during the very long nights of winter. This meal, a hardened fat formed into a suet cake with mixed seeds or nuts, is hard to beat. It provides tons of energy for foraging and keeping warm. You can make your own suet cakes or purchase them relatively inexpensively. Woodpeckers are among the birds that absolutely love suet.
  • Black-oil sunflower seed is also a nutrient-rich, fatty food many species of birds will receive gratefully. Sunflower seeds are a common bird food all year round, continuing into the winter.
  • Nyjer, or thistle seed, is a great food for winter feeding because it is also high in oil content/. It will keep goldfinches and other finches, along with other small-billed birds like titmice, pine siskins, common redpolls, and chickadees (if the black oil sunflower seed runs out) coming back all winter for a good meal.
  • An in-shell peanut feeder is one of my favorite 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 to be a very small hole in each lobe of the shell and remove the inner morsels. You may also find that jays will frequent a peanut feeder.
  • Dried whole-kernel corn is another seed you can offer for jays, pigeons, and doves, along with larger ground birds like quail and pheasants if you live in a rural area. Cracked corn will be well-received because of its smaller size by finches, sparrows, and blackbirds. It is high in fat content for producing body warmth and is cheap to purchase.
  • Safflower is a high-fat seed that will provide a good energy source for wild birds in cold temperatures. It is a favorite of cardinals and has the benefit that squirrels and other birds like starlings and blackbirds may not like its bitter taste.
Blue Jay at Bird Feeder Winter

What Type of Feeders Works Best for Winter Bird Feeding?

Some types of bird food in the list above require special feeders. Using a variety of feeders is very important to attract various bird species.

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

Another problem with the two feeders above is that 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 sunflowers and use the table-style feeders for mixed seed and corn, then more peace will reign in your backyard.

  • Use tube feeders for sunflower seeds. A tube feeder with very short perches will work best, making it difficult for larger birds to sit while eating.
  • Add a suet feeder, and you will undoubtedly attract many members of the woodpecker family, likely more than one type. You are likely to see red-breasted and/or white-breasted nuthatches too. The variety of woodpeckers and nuthatches you see depends on where you live. Many other birds, such as chickadees, will enjoy suet and benefit from this energy-rich source.
  • A nyjer/thistle feeder in many areas will brighten your view with many goldfinches. Thistle is their favorite food. Other types of finches and chickadees will eat from this feeder too.
  • You may also consider a ground feeder for the sparrows, juncos, and mourning doves. One with a roof will help keep the seed free of snow and ice.

Set Your Wild Birds’ Dining Table With a Variety of Feeders

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Chalet Style Bird Feeders

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Perky-Pet HF950 The Chalet Wild Bird Feeder, 1.25 pounds, Green
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Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Tube Style Bird Feeders

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Gray Bunny Metal Bird Feeders for Outdoors Hanging, 6-Port, Premium Grade Metal Tube Bird Feeder, Chew-Proof and Rust-Proof, 16 Inches
  • {SIX FEEDING PORTS}: Six well-spaced feeding ports with perches allows for multiple birds to feed simultaneously. Fit for Mix...
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Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Suet Bird Feeders for Warmth & Energy

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Birds Choice SNTP Recycled Single Cake Tail Prop Suet Feeder, 1 Suet Cake, 8"L X 3"W Xv12"H, Taupe Base w/ Green Roof
  • PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS: Includes 1 Cake Tail Prop Suet Feeder | Material: Recycled Poly-Lumber | Color: Taupe w/ Green Roof |...
  • SINGLE CAKE PILEATED SUET FEEDER: This feeder dispenses a high-energy suet food cake made from rendered animal fat and has a...
  • RECYCLED MATERIALS: Poly lumber proudly made from recycled plastic jugs and bottles in the United States and is designed to...

Last update on 2023-01-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Winter Shelter 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 daylight hours, filling up with as much food as possible.

The amount and type of food they eat all day will be an important factor in their survival during long winter nights.

The second necessary element they need to survive the freezing nights is a sheltered place to stay until sunlight returns.

Winter Bird Shelters

How a heated bird bath helps wild birds

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

  • 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.
  • When any creature requires more energy for an activity, it also increases its need for more food. So if there is no water available to drink and their only option is snow, they must find more food for energy.
  • The last reason is that you will also delight in watching your feathered friends drinking and bathing at your heated bird bath.
European robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Learn About Bird Feeders, Shelters, and Bath Placement in Winter

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

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.

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 baths?

Will the electrical cord extension you use with your heated bird bath reach the location you want to set it up?

Place sleeping accommodations and baths 10 to 20 feet away to allow birds comfortable space. Also, consider your distance from windows.

Collisions decrease within three feet or over 15 feet from windows, while intermediate distances may lead to more window collisions.

More Tips for Feeding Birds in Winter

Choosing sturdy feeders for winter use is critical, 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 birdseed.

Keeping Bird Feeders Clean in Winter

Maintaining bird feeders properly in winter conditions is also very important. Cleanliness is necessary for wild birds’ survival.

Where many birds hang out, so do bacteria abound. The disease follows in short order.

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

  • You can conveniently use wet wipes to clean off your feeders’ perches and feeding ports. This will keep them safe for your feathered friends between washings.
  • Seeds that sit too long in the bottom and corners of your feeders are fertile beds for disease and mold, so it’s important to clean out the seed left in the bottom of your feeders regularly before re-filling. This will prevent the build-up of rancid, moldy seeds that could make your birds sick.
  • Autumn is the best time to perform repairs to your feeders, making sure they are hung and mounted securely so they are not blown down during severe weather.

Make a Plan for Next Year, Now

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

A tree or plant that produces fruits, seeds, catkins, buds, or other plant parts will provide birds with food.

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

More About Winter Bird Feeding

  • 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.

The Other Three Seasons

  • Spring Bird Feeding – An exciting time as wild birds return to their northern breeding grounds after a long migration.
  • Summer Bird Feeding – A very rewarding season to feed and house wild birds. There is a variety of bird life and feathered family activity to enjoy.
  • Fall Bird Feeding – Some people think 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Good To Feed Birds in the Winter?

Yes, It is good to feed birds in the winter because the birds need food to survive the cold.

Should I Leave My Bird Feeders Out in Winter?

Leaving your bird feeders out in winter is a great way to invite a variety of birds to your yard year-round.

However, it’s important to take safety precautions to ensure your feeders and birds are well protected from the elements and predators.

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Jacob Swanson

Jacob Swanson is a writer and wildlife photographer born and raised in Wisconsin and currently based in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his work has appeared in over a dozen different web and print outlets. In his free time, he’s on a personal quest to visit every U.S. national park and see as many wildlife species as possible. His favorite birds are whooping and sandhill cranes.