Feeding Birds In Winter

Winter is hard on a lot of wild animals, but perhaps those that rank highest on Jack Frost’s hit list are our feathered friends. Unlike many earth-anchored animals, birds don’t hibernate.

Many can enter a hyper-low-energy state known as torpor that helps them survive cold nights, but it doesn’t solve the issue of dwindling food supplies.

Feeding Birds In Winter

This is why it’s so important that we lend a helping hand to our be-feathered buddies and provide them with supplementary snacks to tide them over until the cold spells pass.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when preparing your ornithological winter aid.

Take Note Of The Regulars

Imagine you owned a bar, and in an effort to draw in more customers, you neglect the loyal regulars that support your establishment.

It’s fair to say that they’d venture elsewhere for their refreshments. Well, your relationship with the birds that frequent your property follows the same principles.

Before you try to feed every single bird in the sky, focus on the ones that visit your garden on a regular basis, but don’t just dish up every species the same dinner!

Different types of birds prefer different foods, so try to cater to each species individually as best you can.

For instance, blue jays are suckers for peanuts, while robins are fruit fanatics, and the Northern cardinal is coo-coo for sunflower seeds.

With the ruffled regulars taken care of, you’re free to diversify your offerings in the hopes of enticing a greater variety of birds.

Learn Which Foods Are The Most Valuable To Wintering Birds

Before mammals hibernate, to ensure they have enough nutrients to survive the cold stretch, they bulk up significantly. We can take a leaf out of their book when choosing food for our backyard birds.

Although we humans have effectively villainized them in our war on weight gain, calories are a wintering bird’s best friend, so don’t hesitate to dish up some truly calorific delights — We’re talking fats, fats, and yep… more fats!

  • Black sunflower seeds — Probably the most diverse bird feed on the planet, if you’re planning on serving one thing and one thing only, black sunflower seeds should definitely get the gig! They’re high in fats, and birds love, love, love ‘em!

An even better choice would be black oil sunflower seeds, as they contain far more calories.

  • Nuts, suet, & lard — For a super fatty dose of goodness to help stave off the shivers and keep the birds singing, offer up some nuts, suit, or lard.
  • Cheese — Now, I know we associate this yellow delight with rodents more than birds, but they would gorge themselves on cheese if they could only get their beaks on some. My advice is to stick with mild, grated cheddar, as this seems to go down the best.
  • Mixed seeds — This is another popular blanket option that will satisfy many a winged beast, but take care to avoid any mixes that contain a significant amount of milo or oats, as birds shouldn’t really be eating these kinds of grain.
  • Unsalted peanut butter — Many don’t realize it, but birds are bonkers for peanut butter. It’s full of healthy fats, making it a valuable winter treat. Before I even owned a feeder, I would apply peanut butter to pine cones and hang them from tree branches — It kept my garden flock very happy indeed.

Alternatively, you could purchase a dedicated peanut butter bird feeder, such as this Kettle Moraine creation.

  • Mealworms — If you can get these wriggly so-and-sos to keep still, they make a great, fatty treat for backyard birds such as nuthatches and woodpeckers. Dried mealworms are also an option, but they’re not quite as nutritious.
  • Fruit — Fruit may not be the most calorific food, but it’s chock-full of nutrients and can help to keep mealtime interesting for birds. Don’t worry if it’s bashed and bruised; chop it into manageable chunks and serve it up!

Plan A Winter Garden

Plan A Winter Garden

Why take on the responsibility of feeding birds over the winter if you can incorporate plants in your yard that do the job for you?

While most of us develop our outside spaces to thrive during the summer months, the intelligent gardener works in harmony with all seasons.

Which Plants Provide For Birds During The Winter Months?

Not only will plants that produce seeds and berries in winter keep your plumed pals happy, they’ll accent your frosty garden with some much-appreciated pops of color — Hooray!

Some of my personal favorites are…

  • Holly — The festive classic!
  • Winterberry
  • Arborvitae
  • Black chokeberry — Not as deadly as it sounds
  • Crab apple tree
  • Virginia Creeper
  • Common hackberry
  • Beautyberry
  • Serviceberry
  • Viburnums

Don’t Forget Water!

Birds don’t just need bellies full of food to survive the drudgery of winter; they also require lots and lots of good old-fashioned H2O, so installing a bird bath in your yard is a wise move.

A bird spa is even better as it will keep the water from freezing, although there are plenty of other ways you can do so with a run-of-the-mill bird bath…

  • Choose a bath with a dark surface — Dark colors absorb more heat!
  • Place it in an open space that receives plenty of light — A shady bird bath is a bad idea.
  • Keep it topped up — Larger volumes of water are more resilient when the frosts hit, so make time to refill the bath every day if need be.
  • Invest in a heater — Using something along the lines of this outdoor submersion bird bath heater, you can prevent your bird bath from turning into a bird ice rink.

Whatever you do, don’t use any salts or antifreeze to fight the frost. Like any animal, birds need clean water to survive.

Final Thoughts

Winter is a difficult time for birds, but with a bit of care and preparation, we can make life a little easier for these wonderful creatures. 

One last piece of advice I’ll give you before you act on what you’ve learned here today is to always, always station your feeders away from predator hiding spots.

Food isn’t just scarce for birds in winter but for most wild animals, so hungry hunters will be lurking in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to strike!