Winter Birdfeeding Tips

Now that the snow has started to fall in many parts of the northern U.S. and Canada (like here in Michigan!), it’s time to get serious about feeding your backyard birds.  Winter can be very hard on wild birds.  Here are the major challenges faced by birds:

Winter Birdfeeding

  • Cold temperatures – the lower the temperature, the more calories birds must burn up to stay alive.  This means they need to find more food than when temps are mild.
  • Heavy snow – many birds find food either on or near the ground, or in bushes and low plants where berries and seeds reside. Unfortunately, these areas can get covered with food making it hard to find.
  • Long nights – birds forage only during daylight hours.  And with shorter winter days, there is less time to find food to make it through the colder nights.
  • Less cover – with leaves all gone from trees and shrubs there’s less shelter from cold winds and predators.
  • More hawks around – during winter, with less cover available, birds are often targeted more by birds of prey including Sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, Kestrels, and other Falcons. 

So what can you do to help your backyard birds?  The main thing is keep your feeders filled more religiously.  And this is especially important in the early morning when birds first become active and need calories the most. 

Another tip is to feed different types of foods.  Sunflower seed is the #1 favorite of many birds (both black oil and striped).  So, make sure to put this seed out in window feeders, tube feeders, and tray feeders.  Other favorite seeds are safflower, white millet, and cracked corn.  Nyger Thistle is a favorite of finches like goldfinches, pine siskins, and redpolls.  This should be fed in a specialized thistle tube feeder.

Two other great winter foods for birds are suet and shelled peanuts.  Suet is a form of beef fat and is most often fed in the form of cakes made commercially by bird food companies.  Woodpeckers and nuthatches love suet.  And these birds also like peanuts.  The best way to feed peanuts are in special mesh feeders in which the birds pick out the peanuts through the openings. 

Ground feeders are a great way to attract winter birds that like to feed on the ground such as mourning doves, sparrows, junco’s, towhees, blackbirds, pheasants, and quail.  Cardinals also like to feed on the ground.  A ground feeder is simply a tray with short legs attached to elevate it off the ground so the seed is kept drier. 

Make sure to keep feeders cleared off of snow after a snowfall.  And consider putting some seed out in late afternoon so birds can stoke up for the long night. 

With this winter forecasted to be a harsh one, now is the time to get your winter feeding program going.  The birds will thank you for it!

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology