Here’s what you need to know about winter bird feeding and creating a haven for wild birds in your backyard during the coldest months.
The cold and snowy winter months can be hard for all wildlife, including our favorite backyard birds. For wild birds, the tough weeks of winter can be especially hard, as most food has run out. A reliable source of food from our gardens and feeders can make all the difference after a severe snow or ice storm. By keeping your bird feeders full of the food they need, you’ll find that helping backyard birds through the winter is both easy and rewarding.
Winter Bird Feeding
Wild birds may benefit from bird feeders year-round, but they need them most in winter. Energy-rich seeds and suet provide our feathered friends with the calories they need to keep warm, especially when food is scarce or buried under ice and snow. To attract winter birds to your backyard, consider setting out one or more of the following:
- Suet in a Suet Feeder. Made with rendered fat, nuts and seeds, suet is a high-fat feed that attracts woodpeckers, thrashers and other insect-eating birds.
- Black Oil Sunflower Seeds. Favored by nearly all wild birds, black oil sunflower seed has a large, high-fat kernel and a soft outer shell that’s easy to crack.
- Cracked Corn. Calorie-dense cracked corn is a favorite among doves, quail, and even other wildlife like squirrels and deer.
- Quality Wild Birdseed Mix. A blend of white millet, sunflower seeds, safflower seeds and other feed, high quality wild birdseed mixes make backyard bird feeding easy. You can find quality mixes at specialty stores and most garden centers. Another way to feed birds is with homemade birdseed ornaments.
Don’t have a good bird feeder? Check out these popular bird feeders.
*Bonus Tip: To prevent accidentally making birds sick, only feed quality birdseed that hasn’t gone rancid. Store your birdseed in an airtight container and toss out any expired seed.
Providing Water in Winter
A reliable source of food is not the only thing backyard birds need to survive the harsh winter months; a reliable source of water is important too. In winter, many birds struggle to find water, as most sources have either dried up or frozen over.
Wild birds need water in winter for two reasons: hydration and bathing. It might seem strange for birds to immerse themselves in water in freezing weather, but bathing keeps their feathers clean and extra fluffy, which keeps them better insulated from the cold. Hydration is important too! Like humans, birds can’t hydrate properly by eating snow. To keep feathered visitors healthy and happy, add some warm water the bird bath on frozen mornings. Or even better, get a bird bath heater to automatically keep the water from freezing.
Winter Shelter for Birds
Backyard birds don’t have the luxury of shelter from deciduous trees like they do in spring and summer, but they still need somewhere to hide from the elements and roost safely at night. You can help them out by landscaping with evergreen trees and setting out roost boxes for them to hunker down in.
Some great backyard bird shelters include:
- Austrian Pine trees
- Blue Spruce trees
- Arborvitae trees
- Roosting perches up in the eaves of a sheltered barn or shed
- A bird house or roosting box for one or more birds. The birds will appreciate it if you winterize the shelter by adding straw to the inside and place it in a sheltered location.
*Tip: No matter which types of shelter you include, make sure they are not easily accessible to predators.
Quick Tips for Winter Bird Feeding and Helping Backyard Birds through the Cold Weather
- For best results, offer birdseed throughout the entire winter.
- Make sure all feeders and bird baths are kept clean to help avoid spread of disease.
- Use large or multiple feeders with different foods to help and attract as many species as possible.
- Consider using a birdbath water heater to prevent the water from freezing over.
- Stamp down or shovel the snow below your bird feeders in order to give ground feeding birds like juncos and doves access to food.
- For the birds’ safety, keep your household cats indoors and place feeders in open locations where birds can spot predators approaching.
By helping backyard birds through the winter, you will be rewarded with the lively sights and sounds of feathered visitors through your window, even on the coldest and dreariest days.
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